I Have a Dream: the Culmination of the Whistleblower Film Series

Eleven years ago, a poor little intern raised her hand at a staff meeting to comment that she had no idea who or what a Silkwood was. Danielle was stunned. (And she felt old.) Then Danielle starting asking Hill staffers the same question. She found out that those under 30 had no idea about some of the classics in whistleblower history, including Karen Silkwood, Frank Serpico, Ernie Fitzgerald, and Daniel Ellsberg. (Although we tried to make sure that at least our interns knew Ernie’s story.)

Last night was the culmination of POGO’s response to that lack of knowledge.

Danielle thought there needed to be a whistleblower film festival to use movies as an educational tool. But we had no experience with film festivals, and we were never able to get a grant or raise money for such an event. We explored solutions on the cheap for years. Many interns were determined to make this dream a reality. Several gave it the good ole college try and advanced the ball. But it wasn’t until we connected with Chris Garlock of the DC Labor FilmFest that this concept started to become a reality.  Around the office, we affectionately call him “The Warlock” — both as a play off his name and because of the magic he works. Time and time again during the behind-the-scenes work to put on this Whistleblower Film Series we encountered major hurdles; and every time the Warlock responded, “No problem,” and worked it out.

So after way too many staff hours and complications we couldn’t even make up let alone foresee — for instance, they wouldn’t allow us to show Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the Capitol Visitor Center because it’s considered a “commercial” film — we concluded the film series last night.

We averaged about 60 folks in attendance at screenings for The Pentagon Wars, The Whistleblower, Silkwood, and The Insider, with — in true POGO bipartisan fashion — Democrats and Republicans staffers were at each film. We had Representative Van Hollen — who, along with his incredible staff, did yeoman-like work to help advance this dream — and Senator Akaka speak at the screening for The Whistleblower; POGO’s Peter Stockton and POGO Board member David Burnham spoke at the Silkwood screening about their investigations into Karen’s case; and Col. Jim Burton, Jeffrey Wigand, and Daniel Ellsberg each spoke at the film they inspired.

Last night at the Washington premiere of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, the filmmakers, former Washington Post Managing Editor Leonard Downie, and Danielle also participated in a post-film panel in addition to Ellsberg himself. (There were also some folks who had been involved with the Pentagon Papers in the audience, including former Senator Mike Gravel, reporter Hedrick Smith, and Morton Halperin.) It was extremely rewarding to have about 500 people in attendance — so many people showed up, we had to show the film in two theaters at the same time! As one long-time follower of POGO said last night, “This might be the best event you guys have ever done.”

So happily it appears that whistleblower awareness was increased. The Warlock thinks this should be an annual event. However, being such a time-suck and with no financial support, we’ll have to see. For now, Danielle’s dream became a successful reality, and we’re happy with that.

— Keith Rutter

Be sure to check out the photos in the slideshow below (may take a few seconds to load). Do you have any thoughts or feedback about the Whistleblower Film Series? Favorite quotes or questions?  Films you would like to see next time?  Leave us a comment!

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