“Citizen Koch”: The movie about our sick democracy PBS tried to kill

"Citizen Koch": The movie about our sick democracy PBS tried to kill
David Koch in a still from “Citizen Koch”

“Citizen Koch” is kind of a mess. But it’s a mess well worth discovering for yourself — and consider the history of its production and the situation it tries to capture. Filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, co-directors of the Oscar-nominated Hurricane Katrina film “Trouble the Water,” premiered an early cut of the film at Sundance in January 2013. Largely filmed in 2011 and 2012 during the Wisconsin showdown between organized labor and Gov. Scott Walker, a Tea Party darling and Republican golden boy, which ended with the failed effort to recall Walker, “Citizen Koch” conveys the feeling of trying to glean meaning from yesterday’s headlines, with mixed success. Since then, Walker’s star has been considerably tarnished, as has that of his East Coast cognate, Chris Christie, while the Koch brothers failed in their quest to elect a Republican president and the Tea Party wave has ebbed (or been absorbed into the Republican mainstream, if you prefer).

Then there’s the reason why we’re seeing “Citizen Koch” in theaters more than a year after its debut. Originally to be titled “Citizen Corp” and focused on the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which allowed virtually unlimited corporate spending on issue campaigns, Deal and Lessin’s movie was intended for PBS broadcast. But the independent production company ITVS, which is funded by public broadcasting money and supplies films for PBS’ “Independent Lens” series, pulled the plug on this project last year for reasons that remain murky. Or at least for reasons that those involved want to remain murky; as Jane Mayer’s New Yorker story about the whole affair suggested, if you follow the money it doesn’t look all that mysterious.

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