Roll up those sleeping bags, because Occupy Wall Street is going to pale in comparison to the takeaway message of Stephen Gyllenhaal’s latest film “Grassroots.” On Wednesday, Oct. 26, Columbia was one of the few colleges in the country to preview the film with director Gyllenhaal himself, who led a panel discussion after the screening.
The movie, which is based on a true story, depicts the unlikely campaign of unemployed music critic Grant Cogswell (played by Joel David Moore) and his newly jobless friend and campaign manager, Phil Campbell (Jason Biggs), as they attempt to win Cogswell a seat on the Seattle City Council. Cogswell’s campaign against the well-liked incumbent, Richard McIver (Cedric the Entertainer), runs solely on a platform to fix the mass transportation system in the city.
Though the film will not officially release until February 2012, it has already generated a lot of hype around many campuses, not only for its comedic script, but also for its unique goal—to start a kind of political revolution by encouraging students to run for local government positions.
The panel on Wednesday evening included the presidents of both the College Democrats and College Republicans, as well as Campbell himself. Over the past month, Gyllenhaal has begun to screen the film at various college campuses in the hope that he can encourage students to effect change in their own hometowns by running for various government positions.
“Something’s got to be done,” Gyllenhaal said. “It isn’t going to happen at the upper level where people are making plenty of money and think everything’s fine. It’s going to happen at the local level where people can feel what’s really going on in this country. It’s always been that way. ... That’s why it’s called grassroots.”
Gyllenhaal observes that, now more than ever, citizens are itching to make a difference. “A lot of people worked for Obama in the last election and have been very thrown by where he went with all of this,” Gyllenhaal said. “That’s sort of the way national politics goes. It’s a game of billionaires.”
That is why, as Gyllenhaal sees it, now is the time to run. Especially considering the current state of the job market, he thinks a good way for students to really make use of their time is to try to make changes in legislation. According to him, the foundations of the system need to change.
Gyllenhaal’s depiction of grassroots politics serves as a unique inspiration for students looking to run for office. Links on the film’s website range from how to run a campaign to how to gain funding. These supplement the film and serve as helpful tools that students, filmmakers, and campaign managers can use when trying to build their own campaigns.
If the film and the website are not motivation enough, Gyllenhaal offers a few words of wisdom for students looking to make a difference. “You’re the young people, you have a link to the future,” he said. “Take it, don’t be intimidated, and run with it—you have no idea where it’s going to go. But be confident and go for it.”