'Fire From the Heartland' Review: Conservative Women in Their Own Voice
Not only did Citizen’s United’s new film “Fire from the Heartland” teach me quite a few things I didn’t know about some of my favorite women in the conservative movement, but at times it moved me to tears. What was most fascinating though, was viewing today’s tea party movement leaders in the context of history.
“Fire from the Heartland” follows the progression of the conservative movement and the role women have played in it and helps the viewer understand why so many women are at the forefront of today’s tea party movement.
I was fortunate enough to be one of five conservative women to be invited to a private sneak peek of the film with director, Steve Bannon, a week ago in DC and the reaction among all of us was equally strong and positive.
The story is told in a very personal way through the eyes (and words) of 15 of the leading women in the conservative movement, but also by looking at it “from the outside in” through video and still shots. Through the lens of history, we get an interesting overview. From women during the frontier pioneer days to individuals like Clare Boothe Luce, Phylis Schlafly (whose interview is featured) and Margaret Thatcher to women who have only in the past couple of years become political leaders, we see how women came to be such a driving force in the conservative movement.
The interview segments in the film are particularly powerful. They are beautifully shot with the women presented in front of a black background, wearing white blouses and black skirts or slacks. That styling really brings the personality of each woman forward and focuses all attention on what they are saying. It is interesting though, that even though they are all dressed in the same colors, their personalities are still expressed through their wardrobe – Michelle Bachmann wears a beautifully tailored crisp white button front shirt, while Ann Coulter wears a white knit tank top and short black skirt.
After seeing the movie, the thing that most amazed me was the way the interviews were so seamlessly pieced together in such a way that they flowed effortlessly. Although the physical voices of the women are different – from different generations, different races, different parts of the country, and different professions – they are as one because they speak with a common message.
Bannon said they did approximately 40 hours of interviews for the entire 15 person cast, then cut that down to the 80 minute film. The resulting dynamic is one of an unbroken conversation, where one woman can finish another woman’s sentence without any inconsistency or interruption of flow. Bannon said the editor, Matthew Taylor, cut the film very tightly so there is little room for the viewer to "catch" themselves. The effect is very powerful.
The interview segments are interspersed with video and still images to tell the story of the conservative woman in a way understandable to those both inside and outside of the movement. To a viewer who has only seen the tea party movement through the filter of the mainstream media and popular culture, the film will be an eye opener.
Even though I’m active in politics and have followed many of the women featured in the film for years, I learned many things I didn’t already know about where they came from and what moved them to stand up in the public arena and take action.
The backgrounds of some of the women featured may surprise many – this was the part of the film I found particularly moving. These are not generally women who come from wealth and privilege. They do not fit the stereotype of the rich Republican. Some came from incredibly tough backgrounds. Some tell stories of growing up in poverty, filing bankruptcy, and overcoming other hardships.
Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann tells the story of working and saving for years to afford a pair of contacts only to lose them shortly after while riding her bike. This story was an example of one of the ways she learned how much more you value things when you have to work hard and save to get them. We also learn how she struggled with some of the cases she came across in her job as a U.S. Treasury Department attorney prosecuting people unable to pay their taxes and see the Congresswoman in the AIG hearings grilling Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about where the authority for the actions the government had taken could be found in the Constitution. (An excerpt of this exchange is featured in the trailer.)
Another interesting aspect of the movie was listening to women like Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter and Michelle Easton talk about how they viewed the roles Phylis Schlafly and Margaret Thatcher played in the history of the conservative movement, highlighting how today’s generation of conservative women are just a continuation of those who came before them.
For those surprised that so many of the women becoming active in politics today come from the right side of the aisle the film shows this is an understandable result of the feminist movement. As S.E. Cupp says in the movie, “Women like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are really the unintended consequences of the women's liberation movement. For liberal feminists, this was not what they bargained for."
This was further explained by the women talking about how they did not grow up in their mother’s generation where women were often led to believe there were limits to what they could do. They grew up seeing women in many different roles. They had no reason to fear they would not be able to do the things they are doing now -- although many were surprised they ended up stepping into the leadership roles they have.
Michelle Malkin talks about the “fierceness” conservative women possess. Whether it is Sonnie Johnson saying “I am no victim” or Michelle Moore talking about how mothers are the last line of defense it is hard to deny the passion, strength, and fierceness of the conservative woman.
“Fire from the Heartland” is the second film in "The Tea Party Trilogy" that started with "Generation Zero" which outlined the cultural collapse underpinning the financial debacle. Sarah Palin called “Generation Zero” the movie of the movement, but after watching “Fire from the Heartland” I believe it has an equal claim to the title. The story of the tea party movement could not be told without telling the story of the strong, intelligent women leading it and that story is told beautifully in this film.