The Corner

A Chip of Inspiration: Inside Won’t Back Down

Francis X. “Chip” Flaherty is vice president at Walden Media, the studio whose Won’t Back Down hits theaters today. After I talked to his brother, Mike, Walden’s president, about the movie (read it here), Chip gave me further insights — including some inside information on the presidential race (Flaherty brother Peter, a former prosecutor and Walden partner, is senior adviser to Governor Romney):

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Are you proud of your “pro-charter-school screed” as I’ve seen Won’t Back Down described?

CHIP FLAHERTY: Well, I try to stay away from pride as a general rule, but I do appreciate any mechanism that gives parents and their children choice in terms of education. But screed is such a clichéd term from the toolbox of haters and detractors. To them I guess It’s a Wonderful Life is a “power of the individual to save a community” screed. Won’t Back Down is a inspirational, emotional film that reminds us all about the importance of great teachers, the power of an idea whose time has come, and the transcendent strength of familial love.

LOPEZ: Is the charter-school aspect important? Is reform? Is choice? Do you have your personal or corporate set of policy descriptions? 

FLAHERTY: My guiding north star in education is that parents need a seat at the table when it comes to their children’s education. Parents should not be the only ones at the table, of course. Teachers need to be there too, so that their training, education, and experience can be put to its best possible use. But the parent-teacher relationship must be a complementary relationship, not a one sided one. The struggle for parents to get that seat at the table is what Won’t Back Down is all about.#more#

LOPEZ: What attracted you to this story in particular?

FLAHERTY: I love any underdog story where a so-called common person seizes an opportunity to achieve something of cosmic significance. That is what happens here. The teacher in the film, played by Viola Davis, and the single mom, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, battle an entrenched bureaucracy, a powerful, well financed special-interest group, and something perhaps even more powerful, calcified complacency, to improve their children’s education and, by extension, their futures. That is a more significant victory — and just as cinematically satisfying — as Rocky Balboa winning the heavyweight championship.

LOPEZ: You’re Catholic; does that fact influence what projects you take on?

FLAHERTY: My Catholicism allows me to appreciate the transformative power of story, the untapped potential of the underdog, and the responsibility we have to go out and to try to make the world a better place. So, yes, I think that world view makes certain projects more dear to me than others.

LOPEZ: What’s it like watching a presidential campaign as a family member of senior adviser?

FLAHERTY: Well, Pistol Pete and I have been joined at the hip for as long as I can remember. We are just about “Irish twins,” born 13 months apart, and we went to grade school, high school, and even college together. No one is better in a crisis than Pete — when he is around I am confident that everything will turn out all right. So, let me close by telling your readers that everything will turn out all right.  


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