Filmmakers would talk with Obama about issues close to them

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“Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde” (Screen Media Films) is the latest project from two-time Academy Award-winning and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Barbara Kopple and Emmy award-winning producer and director Suzanne Mitchell. The documentary, which opens this fall, is an up-close and personal examination of Dayton O. Hyde — a cowboy who is also a leading conservationist and award-winning writer. Kopple also recently completed “Running from Crazy,” a film that documents Mariel Hemingway’s journey as a writer, model and actress juxtaposed with her complex family history. 

Kopple is a longtime and well-known advocate for U.S. labor. She produced and directed the Oscar-winning documentaries “Harlan County, USA” and “American Dream,” with “Harlan County, USA” named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress and designated an American film classic. Other noteworthy projects of Kopple’s include “Shut Up and Sing,” which tells the story of the Dixie Chicks band and the fallout they faced after making political comments on the eve of the Iraq War; “Fight To Live,” the story of the struggles faced by those with rare and orphan diseases; “Gun Fight,” an examination of guns in the U.S.; “The House of Steinbrenner,” part of an Emmy-nominated ESPN series on New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner; the Emmy-nominated “Woodstock: Now and Then”; and “Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson.” 

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“Wild Man Blues,” a documentary on comedian Woody Allen and his New Orleans-style jazz band, won Kopple the National Board of Review Award for Best Documentary, and her “No Nukes” “rockumentary” won popular and critical acclaim. She also directed the narrative feature “Havoc,” written by Stephen Gaghan and starring Anne Hathaway and Freddy Rodriguez, a 2005 film about wealthy Los Angeles teenagers in search of an identity. She is a sought-after and award-winning television and commercial director as well, with her television work including episodes of HBO’s “OZ” and “Homicide.” Kopple serves on the board of trustees for the American Film Institute and is an advisory board member for the American University Center for Social Media and Independent Feature Project’s Filmmaker Labs, and is a recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from American University. 

In addition to this fall’s “Running Wild,” Mitchell’s notable films include “Woodstock: Now & Then,” “Proud To Be a Girl” and “Gun Fight.” Her career began in broadcast news, where she discovered her passion for long-form storytelling. In 1988, she assisted in the creation of “The Reporters,” Fox Television’s first news magazine show. Since then, she has produced and directed a slew of feature-length documentaries and television specials. 

Mitchell is also an avid philanthropist. She has been involved in multiple organizations, such as the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women (UNIFEM), the Rivertown Film Society and Ramapo Organized for Sustainability and a Safe Aquifer (ROSA). 

ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?

SUZANNE MITCHELL: I’d ask him how he keeps his teeth so white. I love his smile. It’s contagious. Then, after he lets his guard down, I’d talk him into letting me screen my film at The White House. I can talk anybody into anything. I have a feeling he and Michelle would relate to Dayton O. Hyde and his care of wild mustangs and the native prairie land. After a full day of being the leader of the free world, I feel he’d welcome the opportunity to get lost in the beautiful cinematography showcasing the rugged beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota. Then, I’d like to chat with him about climate change and the need for pure water on the Wild Mustang Sanctuary. I’d like him to know about the impending danger to the aquifer posed by the multinational uranium mining company. 

BARBARA KOPPLE: Mental illness continues to carry a significant negative stigma in the United States, yet one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. As I learned during the making of my new film, “Running from Crazy,” about the Hemingway family’s struggles with mental illness, there is a greater demand for services than can be handled and many providers will not accept Medicaid. 

RB: If you could ask the president one question, what would that be?

SM: When you’re president, do you get 24-hour room service at The White House? Are there any limitations to what you can order? Also, can you play music as loud as you like without the neighbors complaining?

BK: With the American Medical Association implementation forthcoming, what will the federal government do to ensure that affordable mental health services are accessible through both Medicaid expansion and in the exchanges?

RB: What piece of advice would you give the president during his second term in office?

SM: Enjoy the ride, because one early morning at 2 a.m. you’ll want to order a BLT with fresh avocado slices and an arugula salad with pecorino cheese with three candied walnuts on top and a bowl of gazpacho soup, and Michelle is going to tell you to go get it yourself. You’re going to miss it. Also, I’d ask him to tell [House Majority Leader] Eric Cantor to switch to decaf. 

BK: I think this president is a good listener and I’d ask him to keep listening to people from every corner of this country. The poor don’t have lobbyists but they have every right to be heard. In the debates about healthcare, gun violence and income inequality, I believe the president is listening to everyone and attempting to help those most deeply affected. Hearing stories has always aided me in my work and life and I am certain that if the president keeps his ears open to all that, it will do the same for him.  

RB: If you were going to send President Obama to one of your favorite places in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?

SM: The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota. There you will experience one of our country’s last remaining open spaces, where prehistoric dinosaur bones inch their way to the surface of the ground, and Indian petroglyphs appear on red rocks as ancient graffiti. On that visit you will not be able to use cellular phones — leave your satellite phone with your aides. There is no signal to distract the senses as you breathe fresh, unfiltered air, gaze over endless windswept buffalo grass while listening to the thunder of untamed wild mustangs galloping across this open land. Don’t forget to pack the wine and beer — a little cheese and biscuits aren’t a bad idea either. 

BK: Mariel Hemingway introduced me to Sun Valley and Ketchum, Idaho. Idaho as a state is one of the most unique and stunningly beautiful in the nation and the Sun Valley region is the crown jewel set in its heart. With its breathtaking peaks and valleys, flowing streams, rivers and fresh air, it is a spiritual place that would inspire anyone who visited to connect with nature. 

RB: What CD/piece of music would you recommend that the president add to his collection? Why?

SM: Sid Vicious, “My Way.” Because the energy is perfect and it’s inspiring and uplifting with a heavy dose of attitude.

BK: Hazel Dickens — she lived her music and the passion she carried for the words she sang can be heard in every note. She is the rare individual who didn’t just sing words but lived them; be it on the picket-line, on behalf of women’s rights, or one of her many causes, Hazel always wanted her talents to help make this a better world. 

RB: Would you ever consider a political career?

SM: Yes. I’ve been taking lessons from the president’s style of political jujitsu, and I’m now a yellow belt. But every day I’m getting better, and I’ll be waiting for him to pass me the baton. But for now, I’ve got wild horses to save.

BK: While public service might be rewarding, I am a storyteller through and through, and I think I should stick to what I know best. I am proud, however, that some of my work has influenced opinion and lawmakers. The role that my film, “Harlan County, USA,” played in understanding Black Lung and helping to lead to legislation is something I consider a great honor. 

Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.