Byline: Morgan Taylor/Multimedia Producer
PARK CITY, Utah – Bad Press is a documentary covering Mvskoke Media’s historic journey to becoming a citizen ratified constitutionally protected free press through a ballot initiative and is premiering in the Sundance Film Festival 2023 starting Jan. 22- Jan. 27.
The film depicts the ups and downs of the Muscogee Nation’s election season after the MCN National Council repealed the media’s free Press law. The film follows a Mvskoke Media reporter’s stewardship for truth and transparency. It documents the outreach and advocacy for press freedom that was ultimately decided by the Muscogee (Creek) voters.
Native American Journalist Association Executive Director and film Co-Director Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Co-director Joe Peeler joined Mvskoke Media Livewire hosted by Jerrad Moore with Director Angel Ellis to talk about the upcoming film and the festival.
Ellis is the film’s main focus as cameras follow her through her transition from Reporter to Director while advocating for the department. Mvskoke Media’s Jerrad Moore is also prominently featured.
The documentary captures those off-camera, hidden moments of the tribal journalist when faced with devastating circumstances. Viewers may see funny and emotional reactions from the small news crew like they have never seen before.
“It’s taking off the veil a whole lot for me, personally,” Moore said.
For Ellis, the documentary journey allowed her a safe space to put on her advocacy hat.
“Basically, you see who we are as people,” Ellis said. “I assumed that this was to get protection for advocacy. I never assumed this movie would mean anything to anyone, and the cameras are here to protect me while I do my job.”
She felt over four years of filming, miracles were caught on camera.
It was a full circle moment for Landsberry-Baker, who was once an employee of the department when it was called Mvskoke Nation News. She had first-hand experience in the department as she worked in various capacities.
“Obviously, I knew what I was getting myself into,” Landsberry-Baker said. “It’s so exciting for me as a member of the community to share that with the world.”
The premiere is a month shy of the fourth anniversary since filming began in 2019. When the free press law was repealed during National Council Emergency Session in 2018, the department was placed under the authority of the Secretary of the Nation and Commerce, executive branch cabinet member to the Principal Chief.
According to Landsberry-Baker, the story goes back much further than that, but the film covers the last four years in depth.
From the Council electoral candidates to rogue reporter Ellis and her colleagues, the term Bad Press had multiple meanings on the press spectrum.
“Some of the national Council members effectively didn’t like bad press coming their way, and you (Mvskoke Media) weren’t able to do your jobs becoming bad press,” Peeler said.
“I think the perception of the outside world is we’re all kind of “bad” or have our own agendas,” Ellis said. “This is survival and healing and telling our stories.”
Censorship and the battle for free Press for the Muscogee Nation lasted over 1000 days. Mvskoke Media could not accurately do its job under the repeal, which goes against the general ethics of a journalist to report accurate news to provide the community with transparency.
Peeler’s involvement in the film was his connection to Landsberry-Baker through her husband Garrett, a film producer who helped in the documentary’s production. He saw this as a huge opportunity to educate people and shed light on tribal journalism and the free press topic.
“If I had no idea about the struggles related to a free press in Indian Country, then I think a lot of people don’t know,” Peeler said.
Bad Press got its name during a brainstorming session when the team was trying to pick something that encapsulated the film’s overall message. Peeler’s girlfriend said, “why don’t you just call it Bad Press?”
The title stuck.
“We were looking for a provocative title that might have multiple meanings,” Peeler said. “This kind of echoes throughout the film in different ways.”
Full of humor and humanity, the film tells the story of the thousand-day fight that is entertaining and educating for any viewer.
Visit the Sundance Film Festival’s website to find out how to watch the documentary.