Libertarians have proven to be enthusiastic supporters for underground political message films. They have willed not one but three parts of the “Atlas Shrugged” adaptation into existence; they helped turn last year’s tea party fever dream “2016: Obama’s America” from a one-screen vanity project to a nationwide sleeper success.
All of which means that filmmaker Pasha Roberts, who grew up in McLean with a DARPA dad and who himself has a degree in financial engineering from MIT, has something of a built-in audience for his feature film debut. Three, actually, he thinks: libertarians, animation buffs and “the precious-metal coin collectors are really into this, too.”
“Silver Circle” is an animated love story/hyperinflation dystopia set at the Federal Reserve. It had its Washington-area premiere this weekend: one screen, one theater, a one-week run at the Regal theater in the Ballston Common mall.
“Did somebody find a money clip?” a man, one of about 40 people in attendance, hollers into the darkness just before the film began Friday evening.
“Wait, is there free money here?” someone asks.
“It’s Federal Reserve money,” a third person responds. “Not worth anything anyway.”
“Silver Circle” is that kind of movie. Made for around $2 million, funded primarily by Roberts’s production company, Two Lanterns, it has become a small symbol for a passionate cohort that believes in tiny government. And on currency that jingles instead of folds.
“There are at least two people who have ‘Silver Circle’ tattoos,” says Roberts, 50, who is tall with spiky gray hair, and arrives at the D.C. premiere wearing an “End the Fed” t-shirt. “Besides me, I mean.”
“It’s been floating around in libertarian circles for awhile,” says Kevin Latchford, who attended the Ballston premiere and who promoted the event on the movie’s Facebook page. (Latchford is also making a movie, he informs a reporter. He’s a producer for “Alongside Night,” which is also about the economic collapse of the United States of America.)
“Silver Circle” has received some Capitol Hill support. Ron Paul endorsed it. Paul inadvertently advertised it in Congress, actually, in 2012 when he whipped one of the film’s promotional silver pieces out of his pocket during a hearing of the House Committee on Financial Services and used it as an object lesson on inflation.
The story is set in 2019, a mere six years from now, a span of time during which the cost of a loaf of bread has risen to $52 and bars have begun to advertise $90 beer specials. The villainous Federal Reserve’s Department of Housing Stability now evicts the hard-working middle class from their homes in order to regulate market demand. Meanwhile, Fed investigator Jay Nelson is beginning to question just what his boss is up to. (His boss is up to trying to have Jay killed; Jay turns to a sexy anarchist marketing illegal currency for help.)
“It’s a story about how people survive and thrive” in chaotic economic circumstances, says Roberts, who identifies as libertarian. The filmmaker now lives in Boston; his day job is producing short, animated videos about economic policy and quantitative finance for corporate clients. “Taking PhD-level concepts down to master’s level,” he explains — though if you’ve seen any of his previous work it was probably “Save Sonny,” a short series about disappearing Social Security described as “a cross between ‘South Park’ and Economics 101” and running on the libertarian web site Reason TV.
Washington is the film’s fourth major stop, after similarly brief stints in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. So far “Silver Circle” has zero positive reviews on RottenTomatoes.com — “Like a Rand Paul rally rendered in the style of Grand Theft Auto” one critic writes. BoxOfficeMojo.com estimates is current gross is about $3,100, though those numbers do not include the D.C. premiere.
Roberts is unconcerned. He expects the film to recoup most of its expenses via DVD sales and online streaming distribution, a natural home for the film’s digitally savvy audience.
A sequel is already in the works.