Better This World
The story of two young Texans accused of intending to firebomb the 2008 Republican National Convention reveals the workings of the post 9/11 security state.
Directed by Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega
Produced by Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega, Mike Nicholson
Co-Producer: David Layton
Executive Producers: Julie Goldman, John Battsek, Nicole Stott
Director of Photography: David Layton
Editor: Greg O'Toole
Original Score: Paul Brill
Executive Producer for ITVS: Sally Jo Fifer
Executive Producer for American Documentary/POV: Simon Kilmurry
A co-production of Loteria Films and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)
How did two boyhood friends from Midland, Texas wind up arrested on terrorism charges at the 2008 Republican National Convention? BETTER THIS WORLD follows the journey of David McKay (22) and Bradley Crowder (23) from political neophytes to accused domestic terrorists with a particular focus on the relationship they develop with a radical activist mentor in the six months leading up to their arrests. A dramatic story of idealism, loyalty, crime and betrayal, BETTER THIS WORLD goes to the heart of the War on Terror and its impact on civil liberties and political dissent in post-9/11 America.
"A riveting and powerful documentary. I highly recommend this film." Mark J. Rozell, Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University
Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2011
Copyright Date: 2011
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-819-8
"Better This World is engaging, creatively written and produced, and tells the story with passion nuanced with a fair degree of balance. This film provides a terrific case study of the ethical, policy, and legal dimensions of the use of government informants and the resulting entrapment defense. Better This World encapsulates well the ongoing tensions in our society between ensuring our security and our liberties. This is a real winner and has excellent value in the classroom."
William C. Banks, Director, Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT), Professor of Law, Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University
"Thanks for making this great teaching tool available! Twenty-seven overworked law and graduate students stayed late on a Thursday evening to watch the documentary and discuss it with faculty. They lingered for almost an hour asking great questions and offering comments. The responses reflected the full range of the political spectrum and crossed the disciplines in our security studies program. I believe that the film stimulated discussion that no textbook, class lecture or news articles could."
Keli Perrin, Assistant Director, Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT), Syracuse University
"From beginning to end, a riveting and powerful documentary. I highly recommend this film for use in government and policy courses--Even more so, I hope it receives a much wider public reception, as the issues it raises about government surveillance and other tactics used in the name of domestic security are critical for all citizens to be aware of and understand. In the post-9/11 environment, is the government overreaching in its zeal to protect us? Watch Better This World and decide."
Mark J. Rozell, Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University, co-Author, The President's Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution (forthcoming, 2012)
"Wow--What an awesome film! Better This World is a riveting and eye-opening examination of the power of the federal government during America's war on terrorism, but also of the power of love and friendship to face injustices stemming from the prosecution of normal citizens during it. Superbly filmed and edited, the film tells the story of two friends, who--though young and possibly misguided--found themselves in a series of unimaginable circumstances culminating in their own prosecution for acts of domestic terrorism by their own government."
Matthew Robinson, Professor of Government and Justice Studies, Appalachian State University, Author, Justice Blind? Ideals and Realities of American Criminal Justice
"[A] frightening reminder of just how much 9/11 changed everything in America...Exposing the critical post-9/11 shift in information-gathering tactics, Better This World disturbingly illustrates how easily the government's expanded powers of coercion and inducement can be exploited for all the wrong reasons. Highly recommended."
"Vividly portrays a true story of tension, protest, betrayal, and the harsh side of the American justice system, while questioning the wisdom and value of entrapment stings. An excellent and thought-provoking documentary."
The Midwest Book Review
"A thriller...The directors have a sympathetic view of Crowder and McKay, but interviews reveal details that are both objective and thought provoking. This film could easily serve as a case study on the ethics of current policies and practices used to ensure our safety in any social justice, political science, or ethics course."
Katherine Bertel, SUNY-Buffalo, Educational Media Reviews Online
"A startling look at America's escalated approach to internal security. Gripping viewing...Intricately researched and perfectly paced."
Best For Film
"What this searching and provocative creates is less a case of highwire drama than a punishing stumble into a looking-glass world where criminals are made so that they can be undone and the high, humane ideals of utterly decent people become nothing more than fuel for their downfall."
Chris Barsanti, filmcritic.com
"Better This World illustrates the kind of Orwellian society we have, to a certain extent, turned into...It's been said that we create what we fear, and Better This World draws a clear picture of how the government's paranoia and hyperbole made it necessary to manufacture something that could be called terrorism. That the real story is being told is at least some vindication for what happened to David and Bradley."
Paul Sbrizzi, Hammer to Nail
"Riveting. Structured like a taut thriller, Better This World delivers a chilling depiction of loyalty, naivete, political zealotry and the post-9/11 security state...and it features one doozy of a kicker in the 'where are they are now' category."
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
"[A] direct reflection of post-9/11 paranoia."
Stephen Holden, The New York Times
"A case of solid journalism that happens to be cinematically interesting...Docu thriller with twists that will catch many by surprise...Playing out against the high drama of the GOP gathering in St. Paul, Minn., compounded by the U.S. policy of targeting terrorists as a top priority, Better This World delivers the kind of case study, rich in national and personal dimensions, that would have made the New Journalists of the '60s and '70s swoon."
Robert Koehler, Variety
"Sharply focused and superbly put together, Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega's documentary tells a tale of law-enforcement overreach and the collision of politics with national-security concerns...Along the way, Better this World offers tidbits about the stacked-deck realities of plea-bargaining and gives yet another illustration of what has happened to presumption of innocence in the post-9/11 era."
John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter
"Combining solid investigative journalism with a compelling storytelling format that plays like a grungier Man On Wire with much higher stakes, the filmmakers probe the facts and principal actors from all angles, and come away with a series of truly shocking dramatic twists sure to anger and incite the even the most stoic viewers."
Ilya Tovbis, indieWIRE
"Powerful; riveting...valuable. It was one of the most fascinating and nuanced documentaries I've watched in terms of domestic security issues, the legal and personal complexities surrounding these cases, the wide array of sources and access to documentation, the lengthy on-screen interviews with the jailed activists and FBI officials, and many others who shed light on this case."
Michael Getler, PBS Ombudsman
"With incredible access filmmakers Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega present the story of David McKay, Bradley Crowder and their respective families, in this powerful investigative piece of work that will make you seriously wonder about the ways the American justice system is being used by those who can."
Top 10 Documentaries of 2011, DocGeeks
"The directors skillfully weave together amateur film and video footage; extensive interviews with the principals, their families and FBI agents; [and] news clips...The story is told with suspense and a strong sense of the humanity of the people involved."
St. Louis Beacon
"An edge-of-your-seat spy thriller and tense legal drama...Better This World has all the complexity, stimulation and suspense of a great drama--with incredible twists at the end...A powerful film. I wish it were a paranoid fantasy rather than a presentation of actual events."
Emily Mendel, Berkeleyside
Includes SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing and scene selection.
The film's website
The producers' website
The film's trailer
POV's informative website on the film
POV's comprehensive 17-page discussion guide for the film
POV's lesson plan for teachers
POV provides excellent context for the film
Awards and Festivals
National PBS Broadcast on "POV"
3 Emmy Award Nominations: Best Documentary, Outstanding Investigative Journalism Long Form, and Outstanding Achievement in a Craft: Editing-Documentary and Long Form
Best Documentary Screenplay, Writers Guild Awards
Best Documentary, Gotham Independent Film Awards
American Library Assocation's VRT Notable Videos 2012 List
Best Documentary Feature, San Francisco International Film Festival
Best Documentary Feature, Sarasota Film Festival
Best Documentary, Gotham Independent Awards
Audience Award, DocuWest Documentary Film Festival
Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
SXSW Film Festival
Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
SilverDocs Documentary Festival
Stranger than Fiction, IFC Center, New York
Artivist Film Festival
Ashland Independent Film Festival
Maryland Film Festival
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival
Independent Film Festival Boston
Guth Gafa International Documentary Film Festival
Edmonton International Film Festival
Port Townsend Film Festival
New Zealand International Film Festival
Indianapolis International Film Festival
Salt Lake City Film Festival
Sydney Underground Film Festival
Camden International Film Festival
Zurich Film Festival
DMZ Korean International Film Festival
BFI London Film Festival
Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival
ReFrame Peterborough International Film Festival
St. Louis International Film Festival
Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal
Victoria Film Festival
Durango International Film Festival
Free Range Film Festival
Central Michigan International Film Festival
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