Left to Right: Derek Horne , Moderator, HSDFF Zach Polett, Former ACORN, Political Director John Atlas, Author / Producer Neil Sealy, Head Organizer for Arkansas Community Organizations
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A jazz band was playing like the house band at an old time speakeasy on Central Avenue. I walked into a bar and ordered a whiskey sour from a smoothing talking bartender named Robert. Rob has a way with phrases and reminds you of a young Steve Buscemi. The Ohio Club is one of the old-style taverns in Hot Springs that dates back to the turn of the century. It was a favorite of Al Capone and a life size manikin sits outside. Gangsters and gambling were always associated with the Ohio Club. It originally opened as a speakeasy (illegal gaming house) that fronts as a tavern--after prohibition, it was a speak easy that fronts as a tavern, fronting as a cigar store. So, I was sitting at a bar, eating a bacon double pepper-cheese slider made just like Al Capone had his--drinking whiskey, served by a bartender who sounds like "Nucky Thompson" from Boardwalk Empire. This is the type of experience you have when you attend the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival Program Book
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I attended the 26th Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival--unlike most film festivals like Sundance or Tribeca, which cater to Hollywood power brokers; here the Documentary Filmmakers are the stars. I was drawn to see the screenings of "ACORN and the Firestorm." This was a documentary about the rise and fall of ACORN--which was originally, Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now. The film is based on a book called "Seeds of Change" written by John Atlas.
John Atlas is the first journalist that has been given full access to ACORN board and staff meetings. He was imbedded in ACORN for five years. This is unique access to a notoriously secretive organization, but it also makes his reporting susceptible to bias or influence. It is easy to be seduced by Wade Rathke--as a seasoned organizer, that is what he does best. The movie was written and directed by Reuben Atlas (his son) and Samuel Pollard. John Atlas was a Producer--and attended the film festival. He also brought other ACORN acolytes with him to share in Questions & Answers. I like to attend all things about ACORN, because I am a former ACORN Board Member and whistleblower. I also wrote a book about my inside experiences with the association called "ACORN 8--Race, Power & Politics: Memoirs of An ACORN Whistleblower."
I watched the movie"
The film starts with Travis from Orlando who is a Confederate Flag owning Republican who joins ACORN to save his home from foreclosure. The film focuses on the exploits of Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, two conservative activists who orchestrate an elaborate media hoax that ultimately destroys the once venerable association with the help of Andrew Breitbart. The film is a cautionary tale of how easily the media can be manipulated to disastrous ends. And how ACORN became the first casualty of the "fake news" by Andrew Breitbart.
The film juxtaposes the story of Bertha Lewis, an African-American community organizer who rises up and becomes the first Black CEO of ACORN, with the story of Hannah Giles, a wannabe student-journalist who desires to destroy the group. The film also includes interviews with Wade Rathke, the putative "founder" and Chief Organizer of ACORN, Madeline Talbott, Head Organizer for Chicago ACORN, and Maud Hurd, former National President of ACORN.