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The Filmmaker Fund


On January 2, 2016, a heavily-armed militia group took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near rural Burns, Oregon. Over the next few weeks, the filmmakers embedded with the militia, witnessing the inner workings of this insurrection. This “armed-protest”, as it has been dubbed, was led by Ammon Bundy, the son of scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy, who famously rebuked federal agents in an armed standoff in Nevada. The Bundy’s believe that they are ordained by God to uphold a strict interpretation of the Constitution and transfer all federal land to local control. This rebellion is the tip of the spear of a larger phenomenon called the Patriot Movement, which is a nationwide confluence of right-wing and libertarian extremists. This movement attracts an amalgamation of ideologically similar activists ready to coalesce when necessary to defy, denounce, and perhaps engage in battle with what they see as a tyrannical federal government. The filmmakers were granted remarkable access to the members and leadership of the occupation as their numbers swelled throughout the 41-day insurrection. Director David Byars documented the everyday business of the siege as the militia explored and secured various areas of the compound, rallied support from a national network of patriots, enacted live-fire trainings for new recruits, and communicated their demands to law enforcement all while attempting to win the hearts and minds of the community. Events at Malheur took a bloody turn when federal agents waylaid the leaders of the occupation en route to a community meeting. A car chase ensued that resulted in the arrests of the entire insurgency leadership and the dramatic on-camera shooting death of LaVoy Finicum, the semi-official spokesman for the group. Four heavily armed militants remained entrenched at the refuge, angered by the death of LaVoy and emboldened by continued support from Cliven Bundy. Two weeks later, the occupation came to a bizarre and chaotic conclusion when the last remaining militant demanded that the FBI swat team scream “hallelujah.” When they complied, he turned himself in. The event was live streamed. The Malheur siege will serve as the backbone and climax of the film, and will document the impact the occupation has had on the people of nearby Burns, a small town struggling with the ramifications of rebellion on its doorstep. The film also follows the dramatic rise of the Patriot Movement, exploring events that led to the occupation and investigating the elaborate tapestry of politics and frustrations that made the occupation not only possible, but inevitable. MALHEUR tells the story of those on the inside of this movement - the ideologues, the disenfranchised, and the dangerously quixotic - attempting to uncover what draws people to the edge of revolution.

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