What were some of the big lessons you learned in the process of making CALIFORNIA STATE OF MIND?
I was surprised to discover how expensive archival footage is. More importantly, I learned that documentaries are different from fiction because the story really reveals itself as you’re making it. Of course I had a plan, but once I interviewed my subjects, the story started to unravel in unexpected ways. So the story can take a little longer to find.
What are some of the challenges of telling a story about someone famous, someone in your family?
In addition to navigating the responsibility of doing justice to many important issues and important events, there was a particular challenge in that I was undeniably biased because the story is about my own grandfather. The way that I worked with my bias is that I decided to reveal it. By embracing telling the story from my point of view, rather than pretending I could be objective, I also found a human angle that audiences connect to. Even though I adore my grandfather, I still aimed to be fair, balanced and journalistic. I insisted we not just show his achievements, but also his stumbles, his character flaws, and challenges. The biggest task of the project was finding my own voice within the narrative. I decided to be on screen and narrate the film even though I am much more comfortable behind the camera. I had a lot of personal challenges to overcome by putting myself out there, not just to be seen on camera, but to be identified as a Brown. This project was really my coming out story as a Brown because prior to making the film, I kept that part of my life private, so stepping into that public identity and carrying the legacy in a new way was quite a journey.
What is your vision for California's future?
In the film I try not to share a prescription for what I think California should or could be, but rather to introduce people to Pat Brown. It’s a great place to start when you’re asking a question: “What would Pat Brown do?” “What would Pat Brown say?” I want viewers to have a new reference point for thinking about today’s issues; to look at challenges with a spirit of bi-partisanship and collaboration. My hope for California is that more people will be optimistic about our collective future, will believe that good public leaders do exist, and will engage in the process. One of my motivations for making the film was I was tired of listening to people bash politicians. Of course we need to be critical, and of course we need to hold our public servants to high standards, but at the same time I think that too often people complain and criticize, but then don’t engage in the process. We are blessed to live in a democracy where we have the right to vote. We all need to step up to be informed and to participate in the simple parts of the process like jury duty and the activities that make democracy work.
Why does California history and politics matter? What do you want young people to take away from this film?
I want young people to understand their voice matters, that they have a future, that this is their state, and that their story is a part of the fabric of history. That’s been one of the great experiences of the film, sharing it with young people. I’ve taken the film to high schools, middle schools and even had elementary school kids come to screenings. After kids see the film they want to tell me their story. They connect to Pat Brown’s story and the documentary inspires a feeling that they might want to go into public service and a desire to learn about where their family came from. My greatest hope when I show the film to young people is that they’ll be optimistic about the future, want to engage in democracy, and be curious about their own family history.
What's your advice for young people interested in pursuing a political career today?
Study history. We learn when we study how leaders like Pat Brown handled problems and how they overcame challenges. If you look at the story of Pat Brown it was never easy. Change is never easy. Power is not given away; power is something we fight for. If you look at, for example, just the water issue, it was a battle every step of the way. My grandfather fought to get it through the legislature and it passed by only one vote. It was not a slam-dunk, it was a not a popular idea, but with true commitment and tireless negotiations, he got it passed. Then he had to get the voters on board with the most expensive bond measure not just in California history, but also in the history of our nation. People don’t want to part with their money, and voters were not happy about moving water to Southern California, but he campaigned up and down the state for it. Ultimately it passed by only less than one percent of the vote. Then it took years to build and they designed the whole thing with slide rulers. It was the biggest infrastructure project, not just in California or the United States, but also in the world for that period of time. Young people need to understand that change, revolution, and coalition building do not happen over night. There’s a process and not everybody is going to be happy, but if you are true to your vision and you believe in it, then you can get things done.
What do you think about the state of public education in California?
It’s challenging; student loans are really crippling graduates and the whole prospect of going to college doesn’t seem affordable or worthwhile to young people. I do have hope that things will shift. I am on the board of the Pat Brown Institute, which is housed at Cal State LA, and I see Cal State schools increasing enrollment, serving more students, and I think that’s a good option as well as the community colleges. However, it is a problem.
What is the role or the relationship between historians and documentary filmmakers?
Documentarians are historians. When we create stories and put them in the world, then those narratives become part of history. I’ve been honored to join the ranks of documentarians. It is quite a big responsibility. When I was making the film I took my job incredibly seriously, I had historians on my advisory committee who I had watch the film multiple times to fact check and to make sure I was being accurate with my information. History is written everyday and documentaries are a great way to make history accessible to more people.
Is there anything I haven't asked that you think is important to talk about?
Often older generations today feel disappointed with the apathy of the younger generations and feel disappointed that there’s not more activism or protests in the street. But I’ve come to see that young people are being innovative in how they take action by utilizing social media and networking online to create powerful organizing and activism. So I’m very hopeful that the next generation is going to surprise us with their engagement and creativity. The last thing I want to add is that this documentary was made by an incredible team. Collaboration is key and I was blessed with a remarkably talented team. I want to give a shout out to Executive Producer Hilary Armstrong, Producer Julia Mintz, Co-writer Laura Nix, and our stellar editing team Lauren Giordano, Doug Blush, and Claire Chandler. The list goes on… I am grateful to the entire crew for their hard work.