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‘Not Going Quietly:’ Nicholas Bruckman On Using Art For Social Change

Art can be a vessel for meaningful change. Director and producer    has spent his career developing content and making films that address this need for social progress. As the director of the 2021 American documentary, Not Going Quietly, Nicholas gives audiences insights into the world of activism and the power of using tragic circumstances to create personal and social change.

Written by Nicholas Bruckman and Amanda Roddy, Not Going Quietly tells the story of activist Ady Barkan. After being diagnosed with ALS at 32, the film follows Ady’s journey across the country with fellow activists as they fight for healthcare reform.

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I had the opportunity to speak with Nicholas Bruckman about his work on Not Going Quietly and his experience in the world of filmmaking for social activism.

Who is Nicholas Bruckman?

Nicholas Bruckman has felt a strong connection to filmmaking since he was little. Carrying his VHS camera around, Nicholas would film endlessly with his friends, dreaming one day he would follow in the footsteps of directors like Quentin Tarantino or James Cameron.

However, after September 11, 2001, and the war on terror, Nicholas felt inspired to use his love of filmmaking to emphasize the issues and division America faces. “Documentary film is this incredible tool for building empathy and letting you walk in somebody else’s shoes,” he explains. “That’s really the best way to combat the xenophobia, fear, racism, and prejudice that drives so many of our social ills, injustice, and atrocities around the world.”

Now, 20 years later, Nicholas Bruckman is the founder and CEO of People’s Television, a creative studio that produces independent films and digital and broadcast content for leading brands. His work extends to producing many short films, including Rosa and Desert Mourning, and directing documentaries La Americana and Not Going Quietly.

In my time with Nicholas, I was enlightened by the impact of his influential filmmaking.

Nicholas Bruckman on the filmmaking journey of Not Going Quietly: “It’s about whether the difficult circumstances in our lives have some innate meaning to heal ourselves and others.”

Nicholas Bruckman could have never prepared for the long-lasting impact from his first meeting with Ady Barkan. Initially, Nicholas received a call from political strategist Liz Jaff, who had met Ady on an airplane, helping him go viral on Twitter after filming an interaction involving former Arizona senator Jeff Flake.

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While he only planned to shoot a fundraising video for Ady’s new “Be A Hero” campaign, Nicholas Bruckman knew Ady could change the world. At that moment, Nicholas decided to pitch his documentary idea. “The reason I pushed it so quickly was because Ady only had about six months left to speak,” Nicholas explains. “In the following months, Ady, his wife Rachael, and I sat down with our producer Amanda and mapped out what this commitment would look like for him to do,” Nicholas says.

For the next 2 years, Nicholas worked with an open-ended timeline due to Ady’s large following and his decline in health. “It was tempting just to follow those news stories about it and what the press thought was important,” Nicholas says, “but we had to be very grounded and make the film about his inner emotional journey.” With the help of a strong community filled with executive producers, the documentary could continue with its vision sustainably.

Not Going Quietly tackles the political and emotional power of Ady Barkan’s activism

Throughout the documentary, scenes depicting Ady leading rallies across the country intertwine with home videos as he spends time with his wife and son. “One thing that I really strived for in making the film was to show that the personal is political,” Nicholas Bruckman explains. Each scene is carefully placed to show audiences that with access to healthcare, Ady can be at home and spend time with his son. Political and personal lives are no longer 2 different entities; Not Going Quietly erases that boundary. For Ady, everything is connected.

The film beautifully humanizes the world of activism through meaningful conversations, fun RV parties, and comical road trip moments. “This kind of work is not always just being angry and holding a sign or yelling at a politician,” Nicholas says. “It’s about community building, joy and celebration, solidarity, and his long-term friendships that were formed on this tour and through this work.”

Audiences are also constantly reminded that Ady is a multifaceted individual. He may be a selfless activist, but he also cracks endless jokes with his foul-mouthed sense of humor when he’s on the road. “He’s just a real person, and we wanted to avoid making him into this idyllic individual,” Nicholas says.

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Nicholas Bruckman shares his fondest memories filming with Ady

Nicholas Bruckman’s face lights up with joy as he recounts the precious moments with Ady that personally changed him forever. From wild bonding parties on the RV to the more intimate home scenes of Ady playing with his son, Nicholas feels grateful and inspired that he witnessed these experiences first-hand. “I was emotionally moved by spending all the time with Ady and his son Carl together and seeing them adapt and play and grow despite Ady’s paralysis,” he says. “It gave me the inspiration to become a father, which I did since completing the film.”

One scene that sticks out to Nicholas Bruckman as a filmmaker is the moment when Ady testifies before congress for universal Medicare. As Ady gives his testimony, Nicholas ducks around Congresspeople and the audience, capturing as many reactions as he can. “I remember feeling in that moment, his voice reverberating throughout the nation where for the first time, Congress was having a serious discussion about giving everybody in America the basic human right of access to health care,” Nicholas says. “That was the most hopeful I’d felt, that one person or a small group of people can make a difference.”

With each passing moment of the documentary, Nicholas Bruckman highlights not only Ady’s strength but the power communities have to change the world.

Nicholas Bruckman on the social responsibility of filmmakers: “We all have our role to play.”

In Nicholas Bruckman’s mind, he strives to unite his audiences with an underlying message of bridging connections. “A lot of our problems come from people’s fear, lack of empathy, and not knowing other people,” Nicholas says. “This medium of walking in somebody’s shoes can bring people together and create an understanding that I hope will ultimately translate into policy and social change.”

While Nicholas creates art as activism, does he believe all filmmakers in the world share that same social responsibility? He argues that it’s broader than that. “I don’t think it’s unique to artists,” he explains. “It’s incumbent on us to engage with society in a larger framework than oneself.”

For Nicholas, films don’t change the world. The organizers, activists, and medical professionals who work tirelessly each day do. He hopes his films and work can serve as a tool for those who are making a difference. “The films that I make are a service to the people that are doing the work,” he says.

Nicholas Bruckman’s hope for Hollywood

Nicholas Bruckman shares how important it is to note the progress in Hollywood, while also keeping in mind that there’s more work to be done. Nicholas feels hopeful in the growing positive reception to documentary filmmaking. “We’ve talked a ton about how impactful it is for changing the world,” he says, “but it’s also great art and super entertaining, and it’s starting to be seen that way.” With many audiences embracing this format, maybe we could see a documentary receiving a Best Picture nomination at this year’s Oscars?

Regarding representation, Nicholas wants to note the strides made to have more diversity in front and behind the camera. “It’s important to acknowledge the work activists and entertainers have done to include more black and indigenous folks and more women and people who identify as women in the storytelling capacity,” he says.

If Hollywood continues in this positive direction, we can only move forward from here.

What’s next for Nicholas Bruckman? 

While Nicholas Bruckman is bringing Not Going Quietly around the country and world to schools, universities, festivals, and community groups, he also hints at upcoming projects. “I’m currently developing a new documentary film project that’s at the intersection of emerging technologies and social justice, and how the new evolutions that are happening on the internet can make for a more democratic society,” he says.

As Not Going Quietly reaches audiences worldwide, Nicholas Bruckman continues to create art that matters, inspiring all of us in the process.

Watch Not Going Quietly on Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, and Itunes now, or watch the film on PBS on January 24, 2022.

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