Politics At The Movies

Actor and filmmaker Matthew Modine was in Sacramento recently to screen a few of his short films, including “Jesus Was a Commie.”  I had a chance to chat with him that evening and his take on the world and politics prompted me to ask him a few extra questions via email:

You’ve described yourself as becoming an environmentalist early in life: When and why?
In the early ‘70s, when I was around 11, I traveled back to a previous home of my family’s in Orem, Utah. I found our house, the large apple orchard, the drive-in movie theater my dad managed, and my dog, that I had buried in the backyard of the house, had all been torn down and replaced by a Grand Central supermarket and covered by a huge asphalt parking lot. This marks the moment of my environmental awakening. It was the moment I became aware of the disappearance of open land, fields, and family farms being gobbled up by real estate developers. I looked at “growth” as a kind of human, societal cancer.

Although you’re best known for your work in front of the camera, you’ve also been behind the camera for many years – what prompted you to make and share your work in film?
I’ve always been a painter. My father taught me to paint with watercolors. From his teaching, I learned about composition and light value. When I was leaving to work with Stanley Kubrick on “Full Metal Jacket,” a good friend recommended that I learn to use his old Rollieflex twin lens reflex camera, as an icebreaker with Kubrick. You see, Kubrick was a still photographer, a very good one. My friend thought that if I impressed Kubrick with my photos, and because I was playing a combat reporter in the film, this would show Stanley that I was a committed actor. What I didn’t know then, was that I would truly appreciate the art of photography. I published several dozen photos in “Full Metal Jacket Diary,” which is now being developed into a very cool app. You can learn more about it on

“Jesus Was a Commie” is an intentionally provocative title, and the film is clearly intended to provoke discussion – what topics would you hope to hear around a dinner table following a screening?
The post-screening conversations are more positive than I could have EVER hoped. The ideas in the film aren’t, by any means, novel or unprecedented. What people have told me I was successful in doing (luckily, I live in NYC where we have such amazing access to museums and historical artifacts) was to take several things Jesus is supposed to have said, parables, and simply present them to our modern society. The film holds a “mirror of society” up and helps us to “see” who we really are and what we are becoming. A powerful comment was made by a very religious man: He said, “The problem with Christians is we don’t behave like Christ.”
That said, if people were to take only one thing away from the film, what would you hope that to be?
My favorite parable in the film is, “Those among you that are without sin, cast the first stone.” That sentence, if practiced, has the power to change life on the planet. What I hope is that people take personal responsibility for their behavior. Stop hoping that a savior is going to arrive, in the nick of time, to save them. It’s up to each of us make the world more peaceful and environmentally sustainable. If we don’t, and soon, I fear for my children. We are at the tipping point. Seven billion people on the earth. If you don’t want to believe that seven billion humans, and their collective behavior is altering and has a detrimental impact on the environment, you are sadly wrong.
With a national election looming and without necessarily naming or endorsing any specific candidate(s), what would you like to hear a candidate say and/or what isn’t being debated which you think is worthy of debate?
If we agree that the world is being affected negatively by the use of oil, the burning of gasoline, then knowingly participating in the use of this fuel is abetting an enormous crime against nature.  I would ban frivolous use of gasoline. I’d call for the immediate end of motor sports, NASCAR and Indy races, and motorcycle races. I’d encourage these sports to develop fuel cell technology and as of yet unimagined fuel sources. I’d enforce gas rationing for all citizens. Encourage carpooling and investment in the infrastructure of our country with light rail, trains and trolly systems. And of course bike lanes. Encouraging young people to ride bikes to school instead of buses and cars.
You’ll be seen onscreen in the upcoming Batman sequel “The Dark Knight Rises” and you have “The Rocking Horsemen” on the way (as writer and director) – should we expect any more short, provocative films in the near future?
Absolutely! I’m making one now. It’s called, “Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and NOBODY.”

Can you tell us what it’s about?
The 99%.

Cool – now I can say that Matthew Modine is making a film about me!
Haha! – Glad to be of help!

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