Inspiration for films can come in many forms. For Robert Gordon, a pirated DVD copy of old debates did the trick. Gordon (55), a writer and filmmaker, was instantly captivated as he watched footage of Gore Vidal and William Buckley, two opposing political figures that changed the face of public debate during the late 1960s. The appeal of the passionate debates and Gordon’s love for documentary production gave birth to Best of Enemies, the kick-off film for this year’s Global Peace Film Festival.
The film, which is co-directed and co-produced by Gordon and Morgan Neville (48), will launch on September 21 at the Bush Auditorium. An additional screening will take place at the Winter Park Public Library on September 22. Both screenings are free of charge.
Gordon and Neville bring to the screen two ABC News legends. From complete contrasting political standpoints, Buckley and Vidal only resemble each other in their eager behaviors.
“What initially drew me to this [project] was the drama between the two. In my childhood Buckley and Vidal were icons. I knew who they were and, when I saw that footage decades after, I thought it would make great material for a documentary,” said Gordon.
Best of Enemies shows the beginning of a new era of public intellectual debate. In 1968, when ABC News’ ratings needed boosting, the company hired neo-conservative Buckley and leftist novelist Vidal to confront each other on television. The debates that followed, which are showcased in the documentary, are explosive, as each speaker believes the other’s ideologies to be, at the very least, dangerous. Besides exposing heated discussions, the film also serves as a reflection piece.
“I saw an analogy of debate in our present society. The arguments are presented as if the future of the country is at stake,” Gordon said. “Like Buckley and Vidal, today the left and the right each believe that the opposing line of thought is corrosive for society.”
But beyond these similarities, Gordon sees blatant differences between the debates of yesterday and the debates of today. The movie was originally supposed to be released in time for the 2012 elections, an unstable moment for the country. However, Gordon and Neville did not have as much luck in gathering funding for the documentary as they initially expected. Only after four years of struggle did the filmmakers find the resources to complete the project. Now, Gordon appreciates the wait. In the current chaotic political scene of the country, Best of Enemies has especial relevance.
“The present debate is so shallow and so loud that I want viewers to be angry and dissatisfied with the contemporary pageantry,” Gordon said. “I want them to demand better arguments about how to solve our nation’s rampant problems.”
According to Gordon, current political debate may resemble those of Buckley and Vidal in passion and rage, but they lack in references to Greek philosophers and world geopolitical conflicts.
“[Buckley and Vidal] may have thought the other was going to take down the country, but they are arguing about specific things and they are armed with actual facts,” he said. “They have a sense of economics, history, philosophy and culture. The actual weaponry of the past had much more depth to it. Today is volume and nonsense.”