Cleveland International Film Festival } March 27 – April 7, 2019 } Tower City Cinemas

"Dark Money" explores the shady side of political influence

April 13, 2018   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers

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In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that entities such as corporations, nonprofits, and unions could fund electioneering communications (e.g., political ads) to try and sway elections—and they could keep their identities a secret in the process.

The ruling reverberated around political circles, in the form of "dark money" that started influencing elections across the U.S. This worrisome trend piqued the interest of director Kimberly Reed, who spent more than five years in her native Montana filming the documentary "Dark Money," which premiered earlier in 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival.

"Super PAC money can be unlimited, but with dark money groups, money can be unlimited and anonymous," Reed told realscreen. "I could see this would be a loophole that would be exploited more and more, and I could see that Montana would be the main spot where this clash was going to happen.

"I started following the election cycles with the idea that this is the canary in the coal mine," she added. "I thought this would be a good microcosm of a story for what the whole country is going through."

This certainly wasn't easy, especially since Reed bootstrapped the film herself, and was dealing with a vast expanse of land. "Montana is enormous, so that sense of scale is pretty rough, everybody is spread out all over the place," she told realscreen. "I spent a lot of the time in the car driving from one place to another."

Yet Reed's hunch about Montana being ripe for storytelling was proven right: "Dark Money" uses the state to examine how these shady funds were pushed toward Republican campaigns.

Even still, the documentary isn't a downer; in fact, "Dark Money" also shows how Montana residents successfully helped enact campaign finance reform in the state.

Indeed, although it might be easy to give into political cynicism—and the starting point of "Dark Money" certainly is bleak—Reed stressed to realscreen that all is not lost when it comes to changing the status quo.

"People think there is nothing you can do about the influence of money in politics," she said. "That’s not true and that’s what the folks in Montana showed us. Especially following a red state where Donald Trump won by a bunch, if you can have strong campaign finance reforms there, you can have them anywhere."

—Annie Zaleski

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Related Screenings:
04/13/18 @ 5:30 PM – Dark Money
04/15/18 @ 11:40 AM – Dark Money

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