On THE PUSHBACK, Purpose and Pushing Back – Emily Barclay Ford

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It’s a rainy Monday in LA, and I’m sitting on my bed with my cat and laptop in the middle of the afternoon…instead of at our film’s premiere at SXSW. Today was supposed to be the launch of our documentary The Pushback at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin. But due to COVID-19, here we are, isolated at home and wondering about the future. For our film, for us, for the nation.

Four years ago, when the threat of a Trump Presidency was around the corner, I said “people will die”. And here we are. People are dying – and we have no real leadership at the helm.

My husband Kevin and I set off on this film journey together in 2018, in the lead up to the mid-term elections. Exhausted and terrified at the prospect of living through another four years of this administration, we decided we needed to use our skills to contribute to the conversation and help raise awareness – but in a positive way.

Back in 2016 Kevin shot and co-produced a documentary American Chaos about Trump supporters throughout the run up to the Presidential election. I sat on the sidelines as he traveled the country documenting the Trump phenomenon as it unfolded. The shoot culminated at the Trump inauguration in D.C. I tagged along and felt first-hand the darkness that was upon us.

I have a full-time job as an executive & producer at a production company and was busy working on many of our projects. After finishing that documentary, Kevin went to England for 5 months to work on one of our films, and during the time he was away, he started hearing stories about what was happening on the U.S. border… Family separation. Children in cages. When I would visit him in London, he would ask me what the heck is going on back in the U.S. He emphatically stated he needed to just get down to the border with his camera to see it for himself.

Still from THE PUSHBACK

When he returned to the states, we attended the Telluride Film Festival with our friends, one of whom, Jim Stern, was the director of American Chaos. We were all discussing what was happening in Texas, the border, the mid-terms, and the rise of Beto O’Rourke. Someone suggested that we should make a documentary about him, but then we quickly discovered that was already underway. Through further discussions, however – we decided there was a bigger story here to tell. The story of Texas. The story of how so many people are resisting the conservative policies there, how they are redefining the state, going against all the stereotypes, and ultimately pushing Texas towards a more progressive blue future. We thought this could be a compelling story to share with America – as a microcosm of what is happening in so many purple states.

Within days, Kevin was on the road with his camera, just like he’d hoped.

Kevin Ford shooting THE PUSHBACK

The challenges for us were daunting – we had no financial backing, no infrastructure… We couldn’t hire a crew, much less a producer. Very quickly this shaped up to be a TRUE indie film. He and I committed to just funding it ourselves to get the ball rolling. We had the support of producer friends like Richard Linklater who wanted to lend their name and expertise to the project, but quickly we discovered raising money for a project like this was going to be difficult. Despite the supposedly ‘progressive’ nature of Hollywood – we found that many companies and financiers were reticent to put their money into something so overtly political, something so time stamped. Others wanted to ‘see the film’ before taking a gamble. And frankly, we were under the gun timewise and didn’t have the luxury of months of planning and fundraising. We needed to be boots on the ground immediately as these stories were unfolding in Texas.

Fortunately, Kevin is an incredibly skilled director/shooter/editor… He can wear so many hats. If there is any advice I can give to other indie filmmakers/producers – try to diversify your talents. In documentary, I find the best, most intimate stories are captured by agile and scaled back teams. He was able to quickly gain trust and access because of how low-impact he was when embedding himself with his subjects.

Still from THE PUSHBACK

We also really leaned on our network of friends and colleagues. Although I have a full-time job, Kevin and I got into a rhythm. I was able to help him with any logistical support from afar, but he was on the road covering everything in the field. Kevin lived in Texas for a decade, and through the help of our friends like Christopher Morse in Austin and Zach Passero in El Paso – we were able to pull together stories and shoots in a very organic way. Through outreach to just about everyone we know, we were led to discover these amazing people like Veronica Escobar and Natasha Harper-Madison.

Eventually we put together a GoFundMe which helped give us an extra boost of financial support, and from there we met a couple of investors who helped get us to the finish line, like our producer Charles Horak who came on board out of El Paso. He and his post facility team were critical in us finishing the film in a timely and cost-effective way. We really loved that we were able to finish the film in El Paso – when you see the film, you’ll understand why that was just kismet. El Paso is such a central piece of the doc, and we hope that this can be healing for their community. Without all of this support and people believing in us, we never would have finished the film. Everyone involved in the project has jumped in because they wanted to help give these people a voice and get their stories told.

Still from THE PUSHBACK

As the female producer on the film, I felt strongly about helping to elevate the women in the film and really protect the heart and emotions of their stories. Throughout the process of making the film, some different opinions bubbled up from within the team about what material to include and whose stories to follow… and I feel I was able to offer a very unique perspective about why certain things mattered – especially when it came to how things would hit our viewers emotionally.

I feel very strongly that it is the job of the producer to protect the creative and the vision of the director. When it’s your husband – it makes for an even more unusual scenario. It is critical to remain objective and listen to your head and your heart. Kevin knows I am usually his harshest critic, but others can sometimes assume that just because you are married, you are siding unobjectively with this person. Working with a partner can present these difficult challenges, but at the end of the day – I never compromise my beliefs or integrity just to satisfy my relationship.

We stood unified about some creative decisions we made, and I believe that it was my perspective as a woman that really protected certain moments and characters. I am so grateful that they made it into the final version of the film, especially because we have gotten so much feedback that those are some of the most memorable scenes.

We came up with the tagline on our poster which is “The Fight for the Heart of Texas…and the Soul of America.” We really wanted this film to have heart and soul, and we worked hard to achieve that.

So what now?

We raced to finish the film in time for our SXSW exhibition – we literally delivered the film the day of their delivery deadline – and then the festival was canceled the same day. Although we are sad that we did not get to launch at the festival and premiere in Texas, and we didn’t get the publicity we were hoping for out of that experience, we feel like we have to make lemonade out of lemons and find the opportunity in this moment. Due to the shutdown of other productions, there will likely be more appetite for finished content in the coming months. And with social distancing, the cancelling of group events, and potentially the inability to canvas – we are thinking that a film like ours can be a useful tool to reach people through their living rooms at a safe distance.

Our goal for the documentary has always been to get the film out in advance of the election, to encourage and inspire voters…reminding them of the accomplishments of 2018, and how much their vote and action matters. We aimed to get across messages of resistance, activism, and highlight the positive influence we can all have when we participate civically. As filmmakers we will continue to push back, and even this global pandemic cannot stop us. I hope you will all continue to work hard to get your stories told, no matter what obstacles you might face.

And looking ahead, as Kevin and I isolate together and brace for the unknown – my hope and prayer for this nation is that we can find a way to heal together. It will take every one of us working hard together to bring about change; it will take all of our hearts and souls to set a new course for the future.

ABOUT EMILY BARCLAY FORD: Emily Barclay Ford distinguished herself as cutting edge early in her career by being an advocate and creator of new media productions. A pioneer in the nascent stages of the genre, Emily won several awards for her new media work. These projects, combined with her television and feature film experience have resulted in giving Emily a broad perspective of the many disciplines of effective storytelling in the constantly changing media landscape. Emily is an active member of the Producer’s Guild of America and currently serves on New Media Council Board. Emily hails from the great state of Oklahoma…but has finally come to call California home.

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