NEW WORLD ORDER: Interview with Director Andrew Neel
By Noralil Ryan Fores
March 15, 2009

A self-admitted lover of armchair philosophy, nonfiction filmmaker Andrew Neel prefers questions to answers. “Present day cinema, indie documentaries included, has devolved into thesis-driven filmmaking; people want a conclusion walking out the door. I think that’s the death of cinema.

“When I leave a film that I feel is really good, I leave with lots of complicated questions that I can’t always answer, that I don’t feel comfortable answering,” he explains.

In studying the little understood culture of political conspiracy theorists, Neel, along with longtime collaborator and co-director Luke Meyer, engages with New World Order several of these uncomfortable questions, the most unnerving of which are: Is there a global elite, this New World Order, that orchestrates the hierarchies and power plays in societies? Does this elite, more alarmingly, hope to handicap the world only to rebuild it in its own image later?

As it follows the leaders of the growing 9/11 Truth Movement, foremost among them incendiary activist Alex Jones, the documentary staunchly refuses to make any judgment calls. If at times the messages sent within the film edify too passionately, the calls “9/11 was an inside job,” and “Wake up!” forever after to play in the recordings of the subconscious, it’s that the subjects of the film, not Neel or Meyer themselves as directors, have spoken those messages out so forcefully. Opting instead simply to gaze with great compassion at its oft ignored and scorned subjects, New World Order, at its core, is much less about government machinations than it is about the profundity of humaneness in a world rife with confusion.

Whereas in their last directorial collaboration Darkon, a glimpse into the fantasy world of live action role players, Neel and Meyer had the freedom to engage with all questions of fact and fiction, with New World Order, Neel says, explorations were thorny in that through the process of making the film questions arose that, as the directors, neither he nor Meyer could address for fear of compromising their objectivity, and hence the film along with it. In this interview, however, Neel opens up to share his thoughts on the power of ideas, the problem of peaceful revolution and the little bit of fear he has for the future.

Each of your films has a unique internal logic. Obviously then finding the logic is different for each project. How is the internal logic for this film different from those of your other films? It seemed as if, to me, an even more intense compassion than was present in Darkon informs the logic here.

Definitely, the subject matter that our characters in the film are discussing is much more serious than it is in Darkon. The allegations that they are making, the theories that they have are pretty dire as far as they are concerned, and so our sensitivity to that had to be heightened, and we had to go to even greater lengths not to indulge in the specifics of their theories. That is, in Darkon, for instance, part of the point of the movie, the internal logic if we’re going to talk about it in those terms, was about indulging in the fantasies of the people who played Darkon. In New World Order we actually had to not get involved in the conspiracy theories. I want to make a very strong delineation there. These are not fantasies in New World Order. They are concepts; they’re ideologies; they’re ideas. In order to serve those properly, in our opinion as directors, we couldn’t allow ourselves the luxury of getting wrapped up in one theory or the other.

What we tried to do from the very beginning was not to over-educate ourselves about the conspiracy theories. We wanted to just let the characters talk, let them say what they had to say. There are plenty of people in the world who call them kooks; there are plenty of people in the world who call them messiahs. We didn’t want to get involved in that discussion. We just wanted to show them frankly as they are. What that demanded was that where in Darkon we created a cinematic reality that mimicked the internal world alive in the characters’ heads, in this film we tried to understand the genesis of how [the subjects] came to believe what they believe. So there’s a difference there. We were an active partner in the internal world in the players of Darkon, and I think, for the most part, we were not that in this film. We kept that at arm’s length and really stepped back and had a more objective, in a way traditional cinematic distance from the subjects.

Let me just say I’m very reticent—not that I don’t think it makes for an interesting discussion—to compare Darkon to New World Order. It’s more useful to contrast them than it is to compare them in that I don’t want to imply somehow that we made one movie about a bunch of people who believe in a fantasy world, and in this movie, it’s another group who believes in a different fantasy world. I don’t think that’s the case. A lot of what the people are saying in New World Order has many elements of truth to it. So while there’s a similar feeling between the two movies in terms of our relationships to our subjects and our compassion for them, I think it’s an inverted model.

And I certainly don’t mean to imply that connection…My feeling, when watching the film, was that both you and Luke were simply searching for moments of a pure humanity. Among my favorite of those moments is the one in which Alex, while driving down the highway, says that he’s so sick of these hit pieces from the media, that he always deceives himself into believing that he has relationships with these reporters that he later finds out are false. That’s such a shining example, for me, in the film of the raw human component.

It’s easy for the mainstream media to dismiss Alex because he’s bombastic, and from time to time, a little out of hand. He’s an activist; he’s impassioned, and impassioned people are sometimes easy to dismiss. Actually, Alex is a very generous, warm, charismatic person, and he believes totally in what he is doing. I think we tried to make that apparent to the audience. I do hope that people come out of the film feeling like they know and understand human beings that believe in these ideas rather than continuing to see them as two-dimensional stereotypes. “Conspiracy theorists,” that term itself, is a problem; it’s almost a derogatory term. They are so quickly dismissed by mainstream media that I think a lot of the good things that they have to say and have to offer toward a dialogue are lost in the mix. So we were trying to demonstrate to the audience that these are human beings with understandable, either mediated or real, experiences that led them to see the world in the way they see it.

The fact of the matter is that we all have religions, ideologies, political beliefs, social beliefs that are formed by our experiences. Those beliefs then go on to define our faith, I think, in a very grand way. For people who believe very strongly that’s even more true. For this set of people, these beliefs that they’ve adopted and that they’ve come to through their own experiences or research have come to define their lives in a really intense way. And I think that we’re seeing that all over the world right now in many different forms.

Can you give me another example of that, in perhaps another area?

Democrat, Republican, Christian, Muslim, Evangelical, Liberal, Libertarian. In the end, this is a film, in my opinion—Luke and I have been talking about this a lot lately—a film about ideas. It’s a film about the power of ideas to control our lives.

We all have a construct in our minds about the way the world works—about what’s good, about what’s bad, about what people are trying to get out of us, about what we are trying to get out of other people. We walk around in the world, all of us, with that construct, and it defines how we live. So [Jack McLamb and Seth Jackson among the other subjects of the film] are extreme examples of that because they are really passionate about what they believe in. It’s an interesting microcosm in which to look at that human phenomenon.

The part of the world that’s closest to me that’s like this is liberals. I’m surrounded by liberals; I’m surrounded by knee-jerk liberals, and every day I see them making misinformed conclusions about the world because of an ideology, because of the construct that they’ve created in their heads. This is baseline human behavior. It’s at the core of our experience.

We are exposed to information now in the Information Age, by an increasingly stratified and massive amount of data that we then sift through and use to create our ideas about the world. These then motivate us moving forward. All of world history has been built out of these ideas, ideas that are in our heads that we then bring out into the world, and it’s either a mess or it’s not. Everyone is engaging in this all the time, and all ideologies, at least to some extent, are flawed in that they have a construct around them, and hopefully the construct is flexible.

I also really love the point Timucin Leflef brings up. His response to this notion of ideas as control is that we, and he particularly though I assumed that statement into a “we,” exist in a state between fear and anger and that we all have a feeling in our guts that we have to save ourselves or everybody else from that same fear and anger. I wonder if that’s always necessarily true, that every idea we are presented with, whether that idea be good or bad, requires that we maintain that skepticism, that we are still going to have at least a little bit of that fear and anger when we’re introduced to that new idea.

Fear and anger are alive in every day life, just all the time, especially when it comes to trying to process new ideas and new information. One of the interesting things, I think, that Alex says in the movie is that people always dismiss conspiracy theorists by saying that they just want to make the world simpler; they want to make it all make sense because it makes them feel better and safer. Alex makes the really interesting point there that, in fact, it doesn’t: “It makes me feel terrified, it makes me feel angry, it makes me feel attacked, it makes me feel unsafe.” Then you look at someone like Jack, who says himself, “I live a very stressful life.” You look at Timucin, who seems also to live a stressful life on some level. It doesn’t seem like [the answer’s] as simple as that. Obviously there’s much more going on there than simply wanting to make a thesis for the world that is consistent…I don’t know why necessarily one type of person chooses one ideology and one chooses another, but I think that’s a critical question that he raises there and that I hope people walk out of the film with.

When I’m thinking about this idea of, “Why do we form our ideologies?” I always find that likely that answer is one based in our DNA, perhaps a chemical in our brain that tells us this is the thing we are supposed to care about. Because of that, [the derivation of our ideologies] is almost entirely unknowable.

Scientists, I think, are trying to figure out where that part of the brain is, the belief part, the religious part.

We’re able to look at our experiences, understand how our experiences affect us, but some of our eventual conclusions about life, about the world—how exactly, or why exactly, one person believes one thing and one person another is kind of mysterious. A little bit of that is alive in the movie in the last sequence. The last shot of the movie is of those two people who are obviously not part of the 9/11 Truth Movement; they are just standing there with a picture of some family member or friend who died, and they are overwhelmed in this sea of violence and global movements that are vast and very difficult to understand. Why seventeen guys would have wanted to crash a plane into those buildings with a bunch of peaceful civilians in them is inconceivable, especially if you live in America.

The world is a vast and confusing place, and we’re all in the midst of it. I actually think that anyone who claims that the conspiracy theorists are lost in the midst of it are missing the fact that they are probably just as lost. They hold an ideology that they believe explains the world in some clear, delineated way, and they somehow see themselves as different from the conspiracy theorists in that regard. But, in fact, they’re functioning on the exact same mental process; it’s just a difference in how they interpret the data.

One of the ironies of the film for me, and I think it’s a very beautiful irony because it seems so very true, is that Alex always talks of this revolution of peaceful information, and yet it seems as if the way in which he goes about getting this peaceful information out is very aggressive. I don’t mean to say that it’s violent, but it’s certainly aggressive. I think particularly of the sequence of Alex continually talking over the man who’s called into the radio show, telling this caller about the pigs, equating the police with piggies. I don’t know if that contradiction is always necessary, that in order to assume a state of peace there is a state of aggression that has to come with that.

That’s a tough one. As you said, Alex is a nonviolent person; he preaches nonviolence. Yet the way in which he gets his word out is extremely aggressive. I think for people who feel as though their message is being lost in the glut of information out there, they feel like they need to speak louder. A lot of conspiracy theorists look to Alex to be that guy to speak louder. Not everyone has the energy or capacity to do that, and he does.

It’s the peaceful revolution problem. It’s the revolution problem period, right?…There is always potentially a tragic possibility with activism, with revolutionaries of one sort or another—not that Alex is a revolutionary—and with people who want to change the system because it will be better for everybody, there is always a danger that it can get carried away and become violent. I actually think that unfairly gets applied to the conspiracy theorist population, and they get cast off as potentially dangerous. That’s nonsense. Of course there are dangerous people in the world, and some believe in far-out stuff, but to imply that anyone who believes in conspiracy theories is potentially dangerous is absurd.

Look, Alex predicted 9/11; he also predicted this economic crash. He’s onto something. In a democracy, dissenting voices are very valuable. I’m glad that Alex Jones exists; I’m glad that his voice exists in this society. I think it’s necessary and important. You don’t always have to agree with it if he’s not always right, but the counterbalance to the generally accepted principles about why people are doing what they are doing is important.

If anyone doesn’t think that people are sitting around, getting together and colluding in order to manipulate a system to their advantage, I think that person is naïve. We collude all the time. It’s our behavior. I collude everyday. I collude to get my movies made. I collude to convince my friends to come out for a drink with me. Collusion and conspiracy are how we operate, so I think it’s important when you’re dealing with a massive, bureaucratic government, like the one that we have, to always have that thought in the back of your mind, to be aware of the fact that people are, to at least some extent, self-interested. It’s not only for those ends but in part. So the fact that Alex gets people to think about that is maybe a good thing. In a way it’s the old “Question Authority” bumper sticker, which, as corny as it is a bumper sticker, I’ve always believed in.

Off that point, I don’t wholly agree with Alex’s assertions about the modern day lack of muckraking journalism, but certainly the lack of money in mainstream media has made it very difficult to see a diversity of independent surveys. All regional papers, for the most part now, are slaves to the wire.

In the film, one of the greatest moments that comments on this, another irony in a different manner, is the group protest at the Geraldo show. Here you’ve got Geraldo back in the 1970s with some bit of credibility as perhaps what Alex might have termed a muckraking journalist, and then these thirty-five so years later, he’s standing beside these dyed-hair, make-up plastered women talking about trivialities, wearing short skirts on an airplane, I think? It’s just a great humorous moment to hear this commentator saying, “This is the ugliest group of protesters I’ve ever seen,” and obviously these made-up lunatics on Geraldo look equally awful.

You’re tapping into one of the essential elements of the film for me. Anyone who is going to claim that conspiracy theorists are crazy, take a look at the world around you. We’re surrounded by madness, by Geraldo, by Iraq, by cruise missiles, by clips on YouTube of anonymous people being mutilated with .50 caliber machine guns from two miles away. The world is mad. It’s a crazy convolution and collision of multiple, incongruent ideologies.

But it always has been.

Yes, it always has been, but it’s intensifying. There are more ideologies. There are more modes of communication, more ways to express yourself, more divergent voices. Out there it’s insane. I turn on the television, and sometimes I’m absolutely confused. I’m totally confused by madness…Everyone is just bouncing around in this echo chamber of information that’s so available, and I think that produces a somewhat manic world.

Whether you believe that it’s an organized conspiracy, or whether you believe that it’s just happening, globalization is one of the most powerful forces, if not the most powerful force, acting upon human societies right now. It’s changing the way we live in a radical way in a very short period of time. This film is a study of that process in action.

Earlier you mentioned the importance of leaving a film with questions. With this film, what is the one most pressing question that you are left to ask yourself?

How is man going to cope in the mess that we have created for ourselves? When I finished this movie, I thought to myself, “My God, what will become of us? What is going to become of us?” I fear for our future. A little bit.

Film Threat

here's a nice review of the film...4 1/2 stars out of 5