Blogging Sundance: "An Unreasonable Man"

I've spent the past week in Park City, Utah at the Sundance Film Festival hawking a movie I wrote and directed with my friend Henriette Mantel, called An Unreasonable Man. It's about the career of Ralph Nader. We're in the documentary competition.

I saw the big premiere movie, Friends With Money, starring Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, and Frances McDormand. It was very enjoyable. I don't think I'll ruin it for anyone if I tell you that by the end, Jennifer Aniston gets a boyfriend. Good for her. She deserves some happiness after what she's been through. He's fictional, but it's a step in the right direction. Our long national nightmare is over.

Also saw Bobcat Goldthwaite's movie, Stay. A romantic comedy that is actually funny. Has a very funny first joke (which I won't ruin for you) and every time you think the joke is about to wear out, he gives it another twist. Highly recommend it. I understand he shot the whole thing in two weeks.

I've had a lot of conversations and arguments about Ralph here, including a shouting match in a restaurant with my old friend and comedy mentor, Larry David. The subject of Ralph still engenders that kind of passion. And I hope our movie engenders a lot of debate. I think it's a debate liberals need to have in order to sort out why we have failed to move the agenda away from the war mongering, environment killing, fundamentalist right.

One of the themes that has bubbled up for me in the course of studying Nader's career (full disclosure: I'm a registered Democrat who voted for Al Gore in 2000) is the tension between "idealism" versus "pragmatism." Nader and his supporters are frequently characterized as naive, whose adolescent pursuit of their ideal agenda only serves to move them farther away from it. On the other hand, the mature pragmatists know the score. They know that you have to retreat from a battle every once in a while in order to win the war. I used to believe that myself. Now, I no longer do.

In fact, I think it's the reverse. The so-called pragmatists don't realize that if you want to know what a politician stands for, find out who is paying him. They believe that the Democratic Party as it is now constituted is truly an opposition party. They refuse to believe that our system is dominated by two factions of one corporate party. This strikes me as naive.

The idealists seem a lot more pragmatic to me. They know that most successful social movements, be it universal suffrage, civil rights, or anti-war protests always start from the bottom up, usually with a handful of people meeting in a room. They know that in order to accomplish anything long lasting you have to do your homework, aggregate the facts, and then start making demands. You don't retreat from a battle. You keep fighting. You demand that your candidates stand for your values before the election. You don't tell them that their only job is to beat the other guy, and then hope they will do the right thing after they've been marinated in a teeming crock of corporate and special interest cash.

The title of our movie comes from a quotation by George Bernard Shaw that my producer, Kevin O'Donnell, brought to my attention two years ago when we started shooting our first interviews:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

We mature "pragmatic" liberals better start getting unreasonable before it's too late.