Q&A with Christopher Kay, director of “Of By For”

  • Photo by Meghan Ralston
By Columbus Alive
From the July 11, 2013 edition

Christopher Kay’s directorial debut, the documentary “Of By For,” is a labor of love resulting from massive frustration. In 2012 Kay (and “Of By For” producer Chad Monnin) became disenfranchised with the current political landscape and wanted to measure publicsentiment.

Surprisingly the vast majority were just as disenfranchised. So they dug deeper, interviewing politicians (Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich), activists (Ralph Nader, Al Sharpton) even former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and journalist Dan Rather. The result is a documentary that examines the flaws in our political system with diversity and depth, while presenting straightforward solutions.

Kay’s film production company, Old Machine is working on new projects, including short films focusing on experts in their craft and another documentary on the Single Speed World Championships bike race. “Of By For” makes its Columbus premiere — after winning the Los Angeles Art-house Film Festival and Lighthouse International Film Festival — this Friday.

It started pretty simply. Chad had just come off being an advisor for Newt Gingrich in the [2012] primary and seeing behind the scenes, was thoroughly disenfranchised with the whole process. Similarly I was feeling despondent because there was so much hope for Obama. We immediately noticed a lot of the things [Obama] campaigned against — signing executive orders, renewing the Patriot Act, signing the NDAA — he started doing. Are we weird? Let’s see what everyone else thinks.

We picked Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles and stopped at all the diners and bars to ask everyday people what they think about how things are going. We expected to find far different opinions or staunch supporters … a more divided country. It was surprising — with rare exception among hundreds of people we talked to — they all were saying “same beast with two heads,”two wings of the same bird,lesser of two evils,I hold my nose when I vote. And that spanned young, old, black, white, Tea Party, Occupy [Movement]. The main thing, with a lot of sobriety, people seemed to understand the influence of money and special interests.

The whole documentary was going to be just that trip; then we decided to reach out to [insiders]. Chad knew Gingrich and we got a hold of Jack Abramoff. We got former head of the Republican National Party Michael Steele and Lanny Davis, Bill Clinton’s chief counsel, who formed a company called Purple Nation Solutions. It’s a Republican and Democrat coming together to advance the idea of civil discourse. They really liked what we were doing and our perspective … and helped us interview Ron Paul, Dan Rather and Al Sharpton.

The fact of the matter is powerful lobbyists and fundraising money drives politicians and the system in general. So when it comes election time, they fall back on the wedge issues — social issues like gay marriage, abortion — that spin up their bases and get people angry at the other side. It became clear that Washington really thrives on money and divisiveness. The divisive nature politicians employ is to get citizens fighting each other because on the major issues they’re largely the same — things like war, [the national] debt, poverty, education and even health care.

The way we can throw a wrench in the system is recognizing we’re being spun up and led to believe we’re so different — that you’re my enemy. We need to recognize our battle isn’t with each other, that we have far more in common and far more at stake collectively.

Talking with Dan Rather was wonderful. He was just really cool. We’d talk about bourbon and all kinds of things. At the end we were chatting and he said, “I really like what you’re doing and if you need bail money give me a call.”

David Bazan from Pedro the Lion will be playing at the premiere event. He has a song in the film and he loved it. That was cool for me. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time.