e street film society


indexCitizen Koch (2013; Dir.: Carl Deal and Tia Lessin)


By Daniel Barnes

Despite its title, Citizen Koch is not a Citizen Kane-like attempt to unearth the buried souls of brothers Charles and David Koch, the conservative political donors who funded the Tea Party. It’s also not a Roger & Me-style piece about trying and failing to get access to the elusive billionaire Koch brothers. In fact, the film has seemingly no interest whatsoever in the two people central to its story, which may be why Citizen Koch feels like a meal of trimmings with no main course.

Instead of pursuing the Koch brothers, this polished but waist-deep look at the God-like influence of political bankrollers follows the same narrative threads as nearly every liberal partisan documentary of the last decade-plus: lifelong Republican regular Joes who struggle through dark nights of the soul towards the morally enlightened satisfaction of voting Democrat. “I always thought the Republican Party was for the people,” and so on and so on and so on. In case you’re not entirely convinced how to feel, there is plenty of ominous music to guide your heart. Who cares what side of the aisle you’re on? This kind of filmmaking is offensive in its intellectual reduction.

images2Ironically, the entire issue of unlimited campaign donations stems from a partisan scare film, an election cycle-era conservative hit piece called Hillary: The Movie, produced by a group named Citizens United. A lawsuit surrounding the film went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that unlimited campaign donations were a freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, opening the floodgates for corporations and billionaires to overpower their opposition with money.

From there, Citizen Koch focuses on the political battleground state of Wisconsin – both its Tea Party-backed, union-busting Governor Scott Walker, as well as a pyrrhic recall attempt that inadvertently turned the state into a slush fund for the Koch brothers’ cash. They outspent the opposition 8-to-1 just to win 53% of the vote, vehemently pushing to disenfranchise minorities and poor people along the way,

It’s an important and deeply unsettling issue that offends the very core of our nation’s democratic values. So why would I have rather watched a feature-length film of the unbelievably strange Americans for Progress rallies that are merely excerpted here? Probably because their fanatical sincerity, no matter how misguided and disturbing, doesn’t feel like it was shoehorned into a story that had already been written.