Filmmakers win over feds’ hearts

A film project strives to illuminate the hard work done by federal agencies.

How do you show your appreciation for Uncle Sam amid anti-government sentiments? Why not make a documentary to highlight all the good stuff agencies do? That’s exactly what Seattle, Wash.--based filmmakers Flying Ninja Story Collective decided to do, and in the process they won over citizens with their “We *heart* Government” project.

The Flying Ninja Story Collective consists of four independent artists: graphic designer Jenna Abts, film editor Dina Guttmann, writer Amanda Vail, and film producer/director Cassandra Soden, who work together to create multimedia projects. To foot some of the expenses of what they dubbed their “love odes” to the government, the group members turned to Kickstarter.com, a website for funding creative projects. Not only did the collective get the attention of more than 100 backers but it exceeded its fundraising goal of $2,500.

Currently in pre-production, “We *heart* Government” consists of three short documentaries, each focusing on a different federal agency. The U.S. Postal Service and the Veterans Affairs Department were picked as the first two subjects, and a little crowdsourcing helped add the National Park Service to the roster of stars.

Here, Amanda Vail, the group’s writer, discusses how the “We *heart* Government” initiative was born and what’s next for the artists.

What has been the main objective of the project?

Our main objective is to shine a light on some neglected or oft-maligned government agencies that we feel still provide invaluable services to our nation. We're not arguing that the agencies are perfect, and in some cases they could certainly use some improvement. What we are arguing is that they are still relevant, valued, and that they are part of our American identity.

Was it a hard sell to do something that would take a positive spin on the government?

Yes and no. There were some even within our circle of family and friends who initially thought that the project must be facetious, and we did receive some very negative comments from some individuals who appeared to be part of a fringe anarchist network. However, the amount of support we got far outweighed the negative or dubious responses. Many people were intrigued and excited by the prospect of some short films on this subject. We got over 100 supporters on Kickstarter and exceeded our initial goal; best, we got some great comments on various government agencies. People can be truly passionate about the agencies they love. Our supporters voted for their favorite agencies (one vote per supporter), and in the end over 40 agencies received votes.

What has the response been from pledgers? Have you heard from any government officials or agencies?

Pledgers have been enthusiastic and supportive. We've received correspondence from a few asking how the project is going, and we have posted an update to Kickstarter to let them know our progress so far. We haven't received any independent communication from government officials or agencies yet; we are just beginning to contact the relevant press offices.

What are the next steps? Any other projects focused on the government in the works?

Well, first we have to get through this one! Our intention is to spend the month of August shooting the footage for these three documentaries, and then we'll be working on editing and post-production. After that, we'll spend some time investigating and submitting to film festivals. As for future projects, who knows? We'll have to see where our curiosity and interests take us. 

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