When Washington and Hollywood collide

At the Alumni Film Festival on Saturday, two films were screened that proved that even in Hollywood, some alumni have trouble escaping the political sphere of Washington.

Former GW students David Leaf and John Schneider screened their films “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” and “Mr. Schneider Goes to Washington,” respectively, and followed each with a panel discussion in the Marvin Center Amphitheater. Though neither alumnus studied political science or film while at GW, they both displayed the overarching theme of political curiosity.

Leaf, who graduated in 1973, played his critically acclaimed 2006 documentary for an audience of alumni and students. The film used archival footage from the Nixon presidency and the massive anti-war movement of the 1970s to document how musician John Lennon was almost deported for speaking out against Vietnam. Included in the film were rare interviews and a stellar soundtrack that excited the industry when it was released three years ago.

Creating the film was of particular interest to Leaf, as the School of Business graduate remembers living through many of the events as a student in Foggy Bottom.

“Everything that was happening (at the time I was at GW) mattered,” Leaf said of the politically charged era. “Maybe because everything happened in plain sight.”

The filmmaker and former music editor for The Hatchet remembers opening the blinds of his dorm to see the 83rd Airborne Division surrounding campus and protestors. The frightening sight, and similar situations he viewed while in the District, stuck with him for almost 40 years.

“In those days, tear gas all too often filled the air in Foggy Bottom,” the director said in an e-mail.

After graduation, he put these issue in front of his video camera as a documentary filmmaker. This project incorporated his interests in both politics and popular culture.

“Movies are mythology for my generation,” he said.

The second film screened focused on the current democratic process, particularly the financial corruption that clouds Capitol Hill.

“Washington wants us to be disenfranchised. If we want change, the only way that will happen is if we are engaged,” Jonathan Schneider, who wrote and directed the documentary, said.

Schneider, a 1984 graduate of the School of Business, developed the idea for the documentary after being overwhelmed by the lobbying that occurred during the 2004 campaign. He left Los Angeles, where he was working as an actor, and set out with a camera to document exactly what was happening. The film is the product of that journey.

Along the way, he spoke with senators and congressmen, lobbyists and professors, and even a few porn stars, who showed how murky politics can be. In the end, he found that the lack of public interest in government let some politicians get away with anything.

“Democracy is only as good as its participants,” he said.

Both films are currently available on DVD.

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