'ACORN and the Firestorm' director Reuben Atlas explains how the doc foreshadows our current political moment.
ACORN and the Firestorm charts the rise and fall of the controversial community organizing group — and oddly foreshadows our political present, says the film’s director.
The documentary, set to premiere Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival, explores how the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a group of over 400,000 left-leaning members, became a major player in the 2008 presidential election that resulted in Barack Obama’s victory, and was subsequently taken down by the strategic efforts of conservatives, including exposé videos from a then-budding media entity spearheaded by Andrew Breitbart.
“One thing I could never have guessed is that the ACORN story would very specifically foreshadow so much of our political present,” says Reuben Atlas, who co-directed the film with Sam Pollard. “For one, when Andrew Breitbart died, Steve Bannon took over Breitbart News and was very helpful to Donald Trump’s campaign and — at least for now — is his colleague in the White House.”
Atlas had been tracking ACORN’s complicated trajectory since 2004, when his father began writing the book Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group. “It was a way to look back on his career as a legal aid lawyer and determine whether his generation of progressive activists had made a difference in the world and American society, and ACORN was his lens because he felt they were doing interesting, effective work,” Atlas tells The Hollywood Reporter.
But the idea for a doc didn’t sprout until that momentous 2008 presidential debate, when Republican candidate John McCain called out ACORN for “destroying the fabric of democracy.” In THR’s exclusive clip, former ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis recalls the moment: “I have to tell you, I was ecstatic. For me, it was a thrill just to hear our name mentioned in a presidential debate. I thought it was great. Well, little did I know…”
Atlas says he never aimed to make a polemic film. “I hope it doesn’t demonize anyone on both sides, and people are able to look past their political ideals and see the story for what it is, and ACORN’s work for what it was and the way it went down,” he explains.
And though he isn’t too interested in the opinions of Trump or McCain, he’d love to get feedback of one specific: Glenn Beck. “The way I see it is he was very entrenched politically for a very long time, and seems to be coming into a nuanced perspective about the world and his own participation in it. I’d love to show him the film and hear his reaction.”