Interview with Nicholas Bruckman, Director and Founder of People’s Television
In this interview, director Nicholas Bruckman discusses working on the documentary following Ady Barkan and his fight for Universal Healthcare, Not Going Quietly. The film received recognition for its powerful storytelling and even had a showing at Capitol Hill. Below, Bruckman details his work with Barkan and the reactions to the documentary.
What has it been like working with an activist like Ady Barkan, both as a subject and collaborator?
Ady is, as you see over and over in the movie, a complete riot to be around and made everyone laugh constantly, usually by telling dirty jokes and making them uncomfortable. On a more personal level, it was an emotional journey growing so close to Ady and seeing him go through a disease like ALS. But Ady’s dedication, work ethic, sense of humor, and resilience forces you to feel such gratitude for your life and the people around you.
I feel grateful that he opened up his life and his family to us. Ady was always pushing himself and our crew to the limit. Because he is always fighting, when you’re feeling down or hopeless or like it’s not worth fighting for something and you get to witness Ady’s strength and willpower, it forces you to ask yourself, “What’s your excuse?” which has been hugely motivating.
What did it feel like to show your film on Capitol Hill and what kinds of reactions did you receive for the film during the premiere?
It was incredible that Chairman McGovern and Representative Jayapal invited us back to show Not Going Quietly in the same room where the movie opens, where Ady testified for universal healthcare in that historic hearing. It felt like a real full-circle experience to bring Ady’s message back through the medium of film into the halls of power in Congress, and to meet with the progressive leaders that are fighting to finally have healthcare justice for all.
Several other members of Congress came by, including Speaker Pelosi, Representative Schakowsky, and Representative DeLauro, to talk about the film and Ady’s work. I was excited to hear that Chairman McGovern is a movie buff himself. He said about the film, “As I was watching this film, I kept on thinking to myself if this film and his [Ady’s] example doesn’t compel us to get out and fight hard, I don’t know what the hell will.”
Could you talk a little bit about what it was like in the House Rules Committee Room and participating in a panel discussion about Medicare for All?
In some ways I felt out of place speaking with two members of Congress as well as the executive director of Be a Hero, Jamila Headley, all of whom have been fighting on this issue for years and understand the policies in and out.
However, it was really gratifying to hear from them and from the audience that storytelling and film are important tools in their work to motivate not only their constituents and activists, but even members of Congress themselves to see the impact legislation has on people. I felt very grateful to know that my work as a storyteller can be a small part of this fight in lifting up Ady’s voice to reach the people fighting on our behalf in Congress.
You have worked on very impactful projects like Not Going Quietly, do you think this type of storytelling is effective in generating change and progress?
Jim Lebrecht, the director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp, which is also a story of heroic activism creating change, said that during the disability rights movement in the 60s and 70s not everyone could go and occupy the state house in their wheelchairs. Some of them didn’t have any means of getting there because there were no ramps and they were disabled.
Instead, they baked cookies in their kitchens and sent them to the occupiers who were fighting for a change in City Hall. That allegory for me pertains to film – film is a tool or a source of comfort or solidarity, inspiration and motivation to the activists who are doing the actual work to make change. So yes, I think films can change the world but only as a source of power for the people doing the work on the ground.
What has been another of your favorite moments in screening your film?
One of my favorite moments was showing the movie with Ady present at our LA premiere and seeing him get the standing ovation that I promised him when we started this movie, now almost four years ago. I really wasn’t sure then where this movie would go, between Ady’s health, the pandemic, and as we were making it, whether Ady’s voice would still work as well with his technology.
The most awesome part of all of this has been celebrating the success of the movie with him as he’s still out there fighting, running the Be A Hero campaign, and watching his children grow up.
Is there anything that you have coming up that you would like to mention to our readers?
My production company, called People’s Television, creates short-form work for socially impactful brands, organizations, and nonprofits. We also have several feature documentaries in progress. You can find out more about our work at www.peoples.tv.
Thank you for reading! Learn more about Nicholas Bruckman here and his production company People’s Television here.