A non-partisan look at the consequences of big-money campaign donations and a Capitol overrun by lobbyists.
Directed by Steve Cowan
Produced by Habitat Media
Written by Steve Cowan and Cameron Harrison
Editors: Steve Cowan, Cameron Harrison and Barry Schienberg
Camera: Barry Schienberg
Music: Bruce Zimmerman
[Note: Community screenings of PRICELESS can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]
"An excellent and vivid introduction to one of the central challenges facing American democracy: the role of money in politics." Alex Keyssar, Professor of History and Social Policy, Harvard University
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 58-minutes and 25-minutes.
PRICELESS examines the growing cost of federal elections, the impact of political campaign fundraising on members of Congress and on policymaking, and the citizen movement to limit the "undue influence" of large campaign donors.
This non-partisan film includes a look at two national policies - agriculture and energy - shaped by a variety of interests including industry groups, political parties, lobbyists, citizen groups, candidates and officeholders.
The filmmakers also look in on Arizona's pioneering "clean election" system as a possible alternative to the prevailing model - an optional reform attracting support from members of Congress in both parties. Commentators include elementary school students, "average" citizens, members of Congress, lobbyists, reform advocates, noted political observers and humorists. Amongst those interviewed are Alan Simpson, Mario Cuomo, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bill Bradley, Lawrence Lessig, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), Charlie Stenholm, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Thom Hartmann, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Bob Edgar.
Other best-selling films by Steve Cowan are Empty Oceans, Empty Nets, Farming the Seas, and Ancient Sea Turtles: Stranded in a Modern World.
Grade Level: 8-12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2011
Copyright Date: 2011
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-909-7
"This film is a clear, well-documented and entertaining look at the way small farmers and our food supply are controlled and harmed by large corporations. It also illuminates the political power of corporate money. Big campaign contributions influence legislation affecting us every day, but Priceless offers hope that ordinary citizens can speak up and fight back. I have shown it in classes, and students responded enthusiastically. Everyone should see this film!"
Dr. Joan D. Mandle, Executive Director, Democracy Matters, Associate Professor of Sociology, Colgate University
"The film makers have somehow managed to produce a hard hitting, insightful account of the impact of special interest money on electoral politics, yet one that is highly entertaining. It is one of the fastest-paced, most enjoyable, and non-partisan political documentaries I have ever seen...By following the money trail, Priceless pulls back the curtain on how 'the game' is really played and arrives at the inescapable conclusion that special interests and the members of Congress they lobby and fund rarely promote the best interests of 'we the people.' Priceless could hardly be more timely and is a must-see film for any American concerned about the health of our democracy! It is suitable for and will be enjoyed by a wide audience, including high school and college students and a wider, general audience."
Dr. Robert Watson, Professor of American Studies, Lynn University, Author, Campaigns and Elections: Issues, Concepts, Cases and Counting Votes:
Lessons from the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida
"Priceless tells the story of the pervasive influence of special interest money on our government in a clear, connect-the-dots way accessible to all audiences. It will be a superb tool in the classroom or meeting room for anyone who wants to educate our citizens about our broken campaign finance system. I know as a former elected official that my time would have been better spent studying issues and talking to my constituents rather than raising campaign funds. What I like best about Priceless is that by describing the Maine and Arizona model of campaign finance reform, a successful, workable solution is offered that would change the way our elected representatives approach domestic and international challenges of today."
Miles Rapoport, President, Demos and The American Prospect, former Secretary of the State of Connecticut
"An excellent and vivid introduction to one of the central challenges facing American democracy: the role of money in politics. Among its many virtues, Priceless makes clear that the American people are paying a large price--in cash and in policies that do not serve the public good--for a system in which our legislators spend an inordinate amount of time raising money for their campaigns and end up beholden to their large contributors. It would be hard to see this film and not conclude that things have to change--and soon."
Alex Keyssar, Professor of History and Social Policy, Chair, Democracy, Politics and Institutions, Harvard University, Author, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States
"Priceless is a thought provoking film that explains in an accessible way the impact of campaign contributions on public policy. The most compelling portions of the film are the extraordinarily frank interviews with lobbyists explaining the use of campaign contributions to affect decision-making at the highest levels of government."
Frederick G. Slabach, President, Texas Wesleyan University, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Texas Wesleyan Law School
"Well produced and thoughtfully presented, this program is recommended to viewers interested in reforming our current political system."
Stephen Hupp, West Virginia University, Library Journal
"Examines the dysfunctional system in close detail...An eye-opening presentation especially recommended for high school, college, and public library collections."
The Midwest Book Review
"Priceless is an excellent study of the corrupting influence of money in congressional politics and its negative impact on both domestic and foreign policy...The film skillfully shows how campaign contributions lead to policy choices in Congress. Highly Recommended."
Timothy Kneeland, Nazareth College of Rochester, Educational Media Reviews Online
DVD includes two versions of the film - 58 minutes and 25 minutes - a collection of short bonus clips, SDH captioning for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection.
The Producer's Website
The Film's Trailer
Awards and Festivals
Grand Jury Award, Documentary, Washington DC Independent Film Festival
Silver Chris Award, Columbus International Film + Video Festival
Whistleblower Award, Cinema Verde Environmental Film and Arts Festival
United Nations Association Film Festival
Citizenship and Civics
Climate Change/Global Warming
Farm & Food Policy
|Granny D Goes to Washington|
A Snowmobile For George
A rambunctious road trip reveals the toll that environmental deregulation has had on the lives of ordinary people, including the effects of fracking for natural gas.
Counting on Democracy
An examination of the fiasco in Florida in the context of the history of voting rights violations.
An unblinking look at the 2004 US Election Day failures in one of Ohio's poorest neighborhoods.
Tells the gripping story of the race for mayor of Newark, N.J., where elections are won and lost in the streets.
The American Ruling Class
A dramatic, musical, documentary satire on class in America that attempts to answer the question 'Who rules America?'
Cowboys, Indians, & Lawyers
The story of a pork-barrel project: a dam on the free-flowing Animas River in Colorado.
The War on Democracy
John Pilger reports that, in spite of a history of repeated US-backed suppression, popular democratic movements are gaining ground in Latin America.
... more Reviews
"This damning expose reveals the hows and whys of bought-off legislators who invariably support the business aims of their mega-industrial donors...disturbing...Highly recommended."
"Next semester is around the corner and hopefully several of you will be able to put this film to work in your classes...The particular gift of this film is to effectively make the argument that US Agricultural Policy and the twice-a-decade Omnibus Farm Bill take the shape they do (e.g., the favoring of chemically dependent, fruit and vegetable production)...because the chemical and fertilizer companies handsomely reward legislators who support their view...A well-crafted exposition."
Arthur Paris, Syracuse University, The Griot, The Newsletter of the Association of Black Sociologists