“Project Censored The Movie,” is a one-hour-long documentary based on Sonoma State University’s sociology course, Project Censored, which examines corporate media’s failure to do its job of informing the public, replacing the truth with infotainment.
This film, a six-year labor of love, was born in Sonoma from passion for truth and compassion for people. Its creators, Sonoma real estate agent Chris Oscar and Petaluma real estate agent Doug Hecker, will introduce their baby at the Sonoma International Film Festival on April 12.
Oscar studied investigative journalism, screenwriting and film at Long Island University, and felt compelled to make a film that would make an impact on humanity. During his run for student government president, the focus of his campaign platform had been on social justice and fighting for the rights of others. So it was no surprise when Sonoma astrologer Bette Timm found those elements in his stars during a 1999 reading. She directed him to Project Censored and their annual publication, “Censored.” The book, written by students, is a collection of the year’s top 25 stories the corporate media ignored, missed, suppressed or did not publicized because of vested interests.
In 2007 Oscar had a flash of insight. He said it came as, “Take Project Censored and turn it into a documentary film for the Sonoma International Film Festival.” He saw it in his mind’s eye, and immediately set the intention to find somebody from the class, so that, together, they could pitch the idea to the Project Censored director, Professor Peter Phillips, and obtain rights for the movie.
That same day, Oscar went to an open house to sell real estate advertising and met Doug Hecker. Hecker had not only been in the Project Censored course 10 years earlier, but had had a story published in the 1997 edition of “Censored.” At one point he was also editor-in-chief of SSU’s newspaper.
The years after college were busy for Hecker with work, marriage and raising children. He admits he’d stopped paying attention to what was really going on in the world and had lost touch with his passion for journalism, truth in news and social justice. Oscar’s idea to make “Project Censored The Movie,” reignited Hecker’s creative drive and passion for journalistic integrity.
“I had never really paid attention to what was going on in the world until Project Censored. You open the San Francisco Chronicle or the New York Times and you’re getting news, but you’re not getting real news. Project Censored opened my eyes to what was really going on, not just all the propaganda we get from corporate media,” said Hecker.
From the moment of their chance encounter their partnership in creating this film has been one of creative flow and synchronicities. They each wear the title of writer/director/producer and are 50/50 partners in the venture. Hecker conducts most of the on-screen interviews while Oscar has been “an animal,” Hecker says, getting the film out to various film festivals.
Oscar especially loves directing and the creative part of making the film, but he says, “I feel like everything that I’ve learned throughout my life has brought me to this point to create ‘Project Censored The Movie.’”
Mike Fischer is the master behind the scenes, editor and second cameraman. Hecker calls him “The Wizard of Oz.” “We tell him what we want and he takes it, and before we’re even done talking about it, he says ‘like this?’ He turns the computer screen around and it’s done,” said Oscar.
Fischer started Fischtank Picture Company in 2007, the same year the insight and chance meeting between Oscar and Hecker took place. When he joined their project, he went through the footage they’d already shot with cameraman Dan Shimer, organized it, and within 5 hours, he had everything they wanted in the movie on the timeline. It amounted to somewhere between 5 ½ to 7 hours of footage of interviews with people like Noam Chomsky, anchorman Bob Jimenez and Howard Zinn.
They took the month of January and “hammered down on it,” Fischer said, getting it to its final state. Where there were narrative gaps, Fischer shot interviews with Hecker and Oscar, got updates from Project Censored Director Mickey Huff and further commentary from Project Censored students and director/screenwriter/producer Oliver Stone. The three of them use the phrase, “extended DVD version” frequently.
“Our goal was to answer the question, ‘What will it take to end the reign of corporate media’s ‘junk food news,’” Hecker said. He and Oscar hope that the film will encourage people to look at their news sources and be more critical of them, asking questions like, “Who owns the media system and do they have an economic agenda. Are the news stories simply advertisements?” They hope that the people who don’t watch or read the news because they know it’s ‘junk food news’ will stay informed by picking up alternative media sources. And while the Project Censored curriculum is taught in more than 20 universities, they hope this film will help to insure its continued expansion.
“Project Censored The Movie” premieres at Sebastiani Theater on Friday, April 12 at 6:30 p.m. A question and answer period will follow the screening. A second screening is Sunday, April 14 at 3 p.m. at Burlingame Hall. Go to sonomafilmfest.org for tickets, and visit projectcensoredthemovie.com to see the trailer.