Better This World

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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Better This World

Documentary by Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega
Run time: 90 minutes
MPAA rating: Unrated

The powerful award-winning documentary “Better This World” follows two boyhood friends from Midland, Texas, as their world spins out of control. David McKay, 22 and Bradley Crowder, 23, had been opposed to the Iraq War, yet had no idea of what, if any, action to take. Within six months, in a stunning turn of events, they wound up arrested on terrorism charges at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

The film explores their initial naiveté (“We just want to make the world a better place”) and their bonds with the intense older Brandon Darby, a radical “agent provocateur,” who mentored and challenged them until their arrests. Much of the film is about the Feds’ relentless prosecution of McKay and Crowder, and the eventual (here, undisclosed) outcome.

Almost in disbelief, we watch the vindictive battle of the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI against McKay and Bradley’s sense of honor, friendship and fear. We also observe the toll the terrorist allegations take on their families, their loved ones and themselves.

More like an edge-of-your-seat spy thriller and tense legal drama than a true story, “Better This World” soberly illustrates the dilemma between civil liberties and post-9/11 public safety. This is a documentary; it isn’t ripped from the headlines and fictionalized. Yet “Better This World” has all the complexity, stimulation and suspense of a great drama — with incredible twists at the end.

Through meticulously edited interviews, moving jailhouse phone calls, audio of FBI interrogations, FBI surveillance photos and video, and footage from the Twin Cities’ Joint Terrorism Task Force Department (Homeland Security had granted $50,000 for surveillance), the documentary shows the events as they happened, although the filmmakers first met McKay and Bradley one year after their arrests. Careful recreations are used where necessary.

“Better This World” is a powerful film. I wish it were a paranoid fantasy rather than a presentation of actual events. But such is our 21st century world.

“Better This World” was partially funded and aired by PBS’s Point of View. Please check the POV website for upcoming screenings.
©Emily S. Mendel 2012. All Rights Reserved


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