Sundance Reviews: 'The Debutante Hunters,' Neil Young, and 'We’re Not Broke'

Festivals
by Charles Lyons
January 30, 2012 5:26 PM
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The Debutante Hunters
It may go down as one of the oddest double-bills in Sundance history. Prior to the premiere of Karin Hayes’ and Victoria Bruce’s earnest and timely documentary about the broken corporate tax system in the U.S., “We’re Not Broke,” Sundance programmers chose to show a short subject documentary entitled, “The Debutante Hunters.”

In this 13-minute film, some five women from South Carolina explain, to all those who were scratching their heads wondering, how exactly they came to hunting, and what particular joys they glean from it. One of women says, “Every time I hunt, I feel lucky; I think—tonight’s going to be the night.”'

The women are frank about their chosen past-time, but there are some parts of this unusual short that made me think perhaps the thing would shift gears and actually be a Saturday Night Live skit. In all fairness, the film was well made by Maria White, a former Sundance volunteer, and may even garner her a reality show, after she nabbed the 2012 shorts Yahoo! Audience Award.

Quality aside, why had Sundance double-billed it with a film about corporate greed and tax evasion? Were we being invited to look outside of the left-leaning bubble that is Park City, into the wilds of South Carolina, and the hearts and minds of some women who just want to hunt? Was this a red state, blue state thing?

Whatever the programmers’ intentions were, it’s clear the “Dubantes” cast and crew had decided to “occupy” Sundance. Prior to the screening, the audience was introduced to an entire row representing team-Debutantes, who stood en masse for a formal bow and wave, like celebrities or Olympians.

After that display, I can’t say I was in the best mood to see anything else that evening. There’s only so much one can take in a day: I had had a perfectly lovely afternoon listening to Paul Rachman moderate a panel at Slamdance, featuring Neil Young and Jonathan Demme, who had screened “Neil Young Journeys” in Park City. The subject drifted to working with corporations, and how to retain one’s own creative vision.

Demme spoke first: “If you try to do what someone else wants you to do, it’s over.” Young took a different tact. “Be sure to welcome failure,” he said, “because then you have no fear.” He later adjusted this to, “If you can accept failure in your life, then you can move on.”

Moving on to “We’re Not Broke,” which was all about corporate greed and devious tax evasion. I met with Hayes and Bruce at a coffee shop just down the block from The Treasure Mountain Inn, where Demme and Young were holding court.

“We started to follow the trail,” Bruce told me, “looking at how they did it and who did it, and how it goes through Congress…We don’t have a voice anymore. The corporations are speaking for us.”

Hayes elaborated, “It’s technically legal, but is it moral? Is it the right thing to do? Slavery was legal, women didn’t have the right to vote…."

If you suspected corporations were getting away with tax-murder, you were right—but what’s great about “We’re Not Broke” is how thoroughly it enumerates the crimes, like a prosecution setting out its case. Some of the facts assembled are truly mind-bending, including:

* 30 of the top 100 American corporations paid zero income tax in at least one of the last three years
* GE (2005 – 2010): Profit $26 billion, U.S. Federal Income Tax Paid: $0
* Bank of America (2010): Profit: $4.4 billion; Bailout $1 trillion; U.S. Federal Income Tax Paid: $0
* Exxon (2009): Profit: $19 billion; U.S. Federal Income Tax Paid: $0

As I jotted down some of this data, and learned about how the U.S. Uncut Movement had led to the Occupy Movement, I looked around me and didn’t see the angry audience I had expected. Occupy Sundance? Nowhere in sight. Perhaps, like so many Sundancers, they couldn’t get a ticket to the screening? Bruce had told me, “We want to be part of the revolution to take corporations out of our lives.”

At Sundance at least, the most disturbing thing about “We’re Not Broke” was the fact that the audience seemed numb to it. And even though the film patiently shows how corporations are running and cheating America and Americans, the folks I overheard after the premiere just wanted to know where they could find a latte.

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