New documentary on Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 ‘Freak Power’ sheriff campaign coming this month
A team of Aspen area filmmakers has mined previously unseen footage to make a new documentary about Hunter S. Thompson’s historic 1970 campaign to become sheriff of Pitkin County.
Co-directed by Ajax Phillips and D.J. Watkins, “Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb” will be released to video-on-demand services beginning on Oct. 23.
Timed to the 50th anniversary of Thompson’s “Freak Power” campaign and aimed at fueling get-out-the-vote efforts for 2020, the feature-length film chronicles the dramatic 1970 election season and watershed Aspen political movement. It outlines how Thompson’s then-radical ideas that have since come to flower – locally and nationally – in the decades since his close defeat by Sheriff Carrol Whitmire, including de-militarizing police and decriminalizing drugs.
Depicting the generational and cultural clash of hippie-era Aspen, the film underscores how Thompson sought to use the legal tools of democracy – rather than more radical and violent means – to reshape the mountain town.
“The film is a call to action,” said Watkins. “Hunter showed how politics could be fun and interesting. And by getting young people involved in politics and getting engaged, they were able to alter the future of their community. The issues Hunter talked about are more relevant than ever.”
Along with unearthing fresh film footage that gives a view from inside the Thompson campaign by Robert E. Fulton III and photographs by David Hiser and Bob Krueger, the film includes new commentary from former Pitkin Country Sheriff Bob Braudis, Commissioner Joe Edwards, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner and artist Ralph Steadman, the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” illustrator who also animated graphics for the film.
An original “Freak Power” score was composed by two-time Oscar-winner Gustavo Santaolalla, and it includes the original song “”Valley of Last Resort” performed by Gary Clark, Jr. and Santaolalla.
The documentary is based on Watkins’ 2015 book, “Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff.” Watkins, director of the Gonzo Gallery in Aspen, also curated a 2015 exhibition of campaign material and ephemera, which has gone on to tour museums across the U.S. with upcoming stops at museums in Santa Cruz and New York.
Along with the streaming release on Oct. 23, “Freak Power” will be celebrated on Oct. 17 with a “Freak Power Day” proclaimed by Aspen Mayor Torre and attendant festivities, followed by a virtual screening and panel discussion for the Aspen Institute’s Society of Fellows. Though a theatrical release has been hampered by the novel coronavirus pandemic, later this month the film will be presented at in-person drive-in movie events around the U.S. including in Thompson’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
The film should not be confused with the dramatic feature “Freak Power: The Battle of Aspen” directed by Bobby Kennedy III with Jay Bulger playing Thompson, which has been shelved since the cancellation of its March premiere at SXSW Film Festival due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
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