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'Citizen Koch' looks at big money in politics (Video)

Friday - 6/6/2014, 10:41am  ET

By Ellen Kortesoja

WASHINGTON -- A documentary about big money in politics will play at West End Theater this month despite the public TV influence of the political activist and businessman the film is about.

The documentary Citizen Koch explores the aftermath of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision that opened the flood gates to deregulate campaign financing. David Koch and his brother, Charles -- the co-owners of Koch Industries -- are two players making use of the court's decision and spending unlimited amounts to back political candidates.

Carl Deal and Tia Lessin are the documentary's filmmakers. In "Citizen Koch," they follow the shakedown in 2011 between public employee unions and Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin that ended up alienating working-class Republicans in the wake of the fast-growing Tea Party movement, they say.

Deal and Lessin sat down with Michael O'Connell and Megan Cloherty for It's All Journalism, a podcast about the new age of journalism, to discuss the film's story.

Deal and Lessin told It's All Journalism how their process to find funding became a parallel narrative to the film.

They immediately got interest from PBS and Independent Lens after showing them a work-in-progress. Indpendent Lens is PBS' documentary series funded by the Independent Television Service (ITVS)—the arm of public television that funds and distributes independent films.

"They loved the film," Deal says. "We had a great partnership for a good six, seven months."

"Then the you-know-what hit the fan," he says.

"It was a surprise to us then, when we found out, that David Koch was on the board of trustees of two major PBS stations," Lessin says. He was a funder and trustee of Boston's WGBH and New York's WNET.

Koch has contributed about $23 million to public TV.

In fear of losing big donation money, ITVS pulled funding for Citizen Koch.

"Public television killed the commission, killed the funding for our film, and killed our broadcast partnership," Lessin says.

Without ITVS funding, the filmmakers needed to raise $150,000 to settle their debts.

"We turned to the crowd," Lessin says.

Around 3,500 people contributed to their Kickstarter campaign. They ended up making $170,000.

Lessin and Deal hope to get people talking after seeing the film.

"It's a good date night movie. You know you can go home and talk about these issues," Lessin says.

The film opens in D.C. on June 20 at West End Cinema. It's playing at about 50 theaters around the states this summer.

See the schedule on the "Citizen Koch" website.

Citizen Koch not playing near you? Lessin says not to worry.

"You can get 25 friends together and once you have the numbers, they'll set up a private screening for you -- kinda cool."

Watch a trailer for the film:

Ellen Kortesoja is a producer for It's All Journalism and a freelancer at WTOP.

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