Meg Smaker’s Sundance dreams curdled before the film could hit theaters. The filmmaker’s “Jihad Rehab,” a powerful account of Guantanamo Bay prisoners entering a de-radicalization program in Saudi Arabia, earned a coveted slot at Robert Redford’s festival in January.
Reviewers cheered the film’s sensitive approach, with “The Guardian” declaring the movie speaks to “intelligent people looking to have their preconceived notions challenged.” Plus, Sundance offers indie filmmakers a golden opportunity for mainstream distribution.
And then the woke mob grabbed its cyber pitchforks.
The New York Times noted the attacks came from the Left, not the Right.
Arab and Muslim filmmakers and their white supporters accused Ms. Smaker of Islamophobia and American propaganda. Some suggested her race was disqualifying, a white woman who presumed to tell the story of Arab men.New York Times
Abigail Disney, the far-left activist and granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, initially signed on to “Jihad Rehab” as an executive producer, calling it “freaking brilliant.” Once the controversy began, Disney did an about-face and apologized for the film’s contents.
Most Hollywood stars stayed mum on the subject. Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney of “Taxi to the Dark Side” fame proved an exception, saying her vision has a right to be shown.
Author/filmmaker Sebastian Junger also spoke up in her defense via National Review. Smaker tells Outkick some fiction filmmakers have reached out to her personally to offer support.
Things looked grim until Smaker took a populist approach to the problem. She renamed her documentary “The Unredacted” and created a GoFundMe campaign to raise enough money to self-distribute the feature.
At this point in time, the only way to get this movie to the public is to try and distribute the film myself – which is not cheap. (Trailer, Posters, Renting Theaters for screenings, etc). I don’t come from money, as the daughter of a firefighter, and a former firefighter myself, the kind of resources needed to put this kind of thing together are way outside my tax bracket. But, as we used to say in the fire service “improvise, adapt, and overcome.”Meg Smaker, via GoFundMe
Buoyed by a podcast chat with Sam Harris, she quickly generated 8,000 individual donors, more than tripling her fundraising goal of $200,000.
Once again, the American public has spoken. We want free expression, not censorship. Challenging art deserves a platform, not a cyber crowd eager to shut it down.
The film explores red-hot button issues, from the War on Terror’s fallout to the power of redemption, and few argue Smaker tackled those conversations lightly. It’s precisely the kind of story a documentary filmmaker should tell. And, if someone vehemently disagrees with the film and its conclusions, they can pick up a camera and share their side, their way.
More voices, not less, the late Andrew Breitbart famously said.
Once again, he’s right. So why aren’t more filmmakers fighting for the film’s revival? Shouldn’t this be a cause celebre for the Hollywood elite? Why is Gibney’s voice virtually alone?
Team Sundance eventually apologized for giving the film a platform. What about the festival’s iconic founder, a figure renown for his support of the arts? What does Redford have to say about a documentary getting knee-capped by Cancel Culture?
The New York Times shares a dispiriting footnote to the saga.
More than 230 filmmakers signed a letter denouncing the documentary. A majority had not seen it.The New York Times
Smaker’s distribution plans aren’t set yet, but the film will screen for one week at the Laemmle Theater in Glendale, Calif. starting Oct. 28. That debut means it will be eligible for Oscar consideration.