A decidedly progressive crowd gathered in Warren Hall to chat with independent documentarian Steve Greenstreet following the screening of his film This Divided State. The film which chronicled the chaos surrounding the September 2004 decision of Utah Valley State College to invite filmmaker Michael Moore to speak at the campus just two weeks prior to the presidential election.
Director Greenstreet had been living in Utah at the time the controversial decision to bring in Moore was made and decided to go film events on a whim, saying “Hey, let’s go film some people screaming at each other.” What he found was a political bombshell in the making, with much of the largely conservative population and student body of Orem City, Utah, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 12 to 1, voicing their disgust with the decision.
Greenstreet became so enraptured with the events of the next few weeks that he quit school at Brigham Young University to devote all his energies to the project, tallying eight parking tickets, three speeding tickets, and a restraining order during the ordeal.
The film comically follows the efforts of concerned citizens on both sides of the debate to have Moore speak, from a local Moore lookalike to a local businessman who filed lawsuits and offered the school $25,000 to rescind the invitation, to the president and vice president of the student body who bore the brunt of the attacks of the community. A decision to bring in conservative Sean Hannity to speak before Moore did little to quell the controversy, in fact it only stirred the pot.
The movie shows much shouting and protests, and even death threats, resulting from the simple decision, showing how much trouble the issue of free speech could cause in an area sensitive to intrusion of foreign viewpoints. During Hannity’s speech at UVSC the crowd in attendance applauds Hannity’s talk of Muslim terrorists’ “unmatched fanaticism that you cannot deal with.”
Introducing the filmmaker was Andrew Garib ’06 of the Progressive Students Union, who framed the film as “the recognition of the cultural divide between those who are in touch, the blue states, and those who are out of touch, the red states.” Most of all, he viewed it as a stark depiction of the nation’s “moral divide” and a call for those who care about free speech to organize.
A number of progessive groups such as Turn Left and the Cornell Democrats played a role in bringing Greenstreet to campus.
Greenstreet, a Mormon by faith and also a registered Democrat, is currently on a whirlwind 23-college tour to promote This Divided State, in part sponsored by the Center for American Progress, and a DVD release is in the works. Greenstreet’s newfound celebrity from the recent film has garnered him offers for new films, a congratulatory phone call from Michael Moore, and outrage from those who feel they were depicted unfairly in the film. Greenstreet defended these claims by saying, “If I ever did anything to make anyone look stupid it was hit the record button.”
Turn Left President Wayne Huang ’07 was gracious for Greenstreet’s visit and called the film a “peek into the divided rift that now exists in this country.”
In the post-film discussion the viewers, none of which admitted to being conservative in a hand count, raised numerous questions about the relationship between UVSC’s president and vice president, which soured when the vice president was asked to step down, possibly to elicit the dropping of a lawsuit against the two.
Students and the filmmaker alike also called for more discussion between people of different viewpoints as well as introspection about how honest we are with our own shortcomings. The informal talk ended with Greenstreet talking of his admiration for Moore as the inspiration for his own work and what an honor it was to be doing a film about his hero.
Archived article by Steven Nelson