Sundance 2023: Joonam, A Still Small Voice, Bad Press | Festivals & Awards

There have been many documentaries about first responders in the age of Covid, but “A Still Small Voice” may well be the best to examine them within the frame set of the Great Resignation. 

Lastly, “Bad Press,” Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler’s searing look at how local politics are at odds with the freedom of the press in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma, mostly centers itself on how the fight of one journalist is not just about her job, but the wave of change that could ripple throughout all of Indian country. 

Angel Ellis is a reporter for Mvskoke Media in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. On November 8th, 2018, the members of the National Council voted to repeal the Freedom of the Press Act, which itself had only been ratified in the Nation in 2015. This repeal comes a year after one of Angel’s fellow journalists unearthed a sexual harassment scandal on the council, and few months before an upcoming election. 

The doc includes footage of the repeal vote, as well as several other important votes after one council member initiates a motion to codify Freedom of the Press into their constitution (itself only dates back to 1979). Landsberry-Baker and Peeler manage to capture—several times—that pit in your stomach feeling that occurs when you’re watching the votes roll in for an election that has steep ramifications depending on its outcome.

Along with Angel and her various co-workers, in tracing the motion’s journey towards codification, the filmmakers interview several candidates who are running for Principal Chief, as well as citizens who are inspired to vote for the first time in order to make sure the motion passes. These interviews reveal just how corrupt those who seek to lead often are, or later become, as well as how easily misinformation can spread without a trustworthy news source. 

Although the documentary’s focus is solely on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, its themes echo the various battles fought between the press and governments throughout time. The Mvskoke Media story is a living embodiment of “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors,” Justice Hugo Black’s opinion on the 1971 Supreme Court decision in New York Times Co. v. United States. That a Freedom of the Press codification for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation could be as big of a landmark decision that would affect other Native American tribes is a driving force for Angel, who just wants journalists to be able to do their job reporting the news, good or bad. 

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