Mason Professor Advises on Constitution Film

Posted: September 23, 2013 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: September 24, 2013 at 6:49 am

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By Buzz McClain

Todd Zywicki. School of Law photo

Todd Zywicki. School of Law photo

George Mason University law professor Todd Zywicki was the chairman of the academic advisors on a new documentary, “We the People,” which is intended to “tell the story of the U.S. Constitution from its founding and how an engaged citizenry—‘we the people’—created a constitution that has become what it is,” he says.

The film, which debuts at select theaters September 24, uses reenactments of historic moments in the life of the Constitution, from its creation by the founding fathers to its impact on contemporary culture, to show how America has developed thanks to a document that empowered the people, not a king, to rule themselves. Actor Morgan Freeman and country music star Kenny Rogers narrate.

Zywicki, George Mason University Foundation Professor of Law, teaches the economic aspects of law and would seem uniquely qualified to help create and vet a script about the Constitution: He has written Constitutional histories and is on the board of the Bill of Rights Institute, a nonprofit that provides educational resources about America’s founding documents and principles for teachers and students of American history and civics.

Courtesy Sandman films

Courtesy Inland Sea Productions

The filmmakers, including Emmy-winning director Aimee Larrabee, took care to make sure “We the People” “educates and inspires people to be engaged citizens,” Zywicki says.

“We tried to make it a story that will be interesting for people of all ages without dumbing it down. We’ve made sure we’ve told an accurate story and a balanced story and kept our focus on reaching exactly the people who matter, the ordinary citizens who need to learn about the Constitution.”

“It will play for years as part of the permanent collections of both large-format and standard movie theaters,” says John Altman, one of the producers. “It will serve as an eye-opening introduction and overview of how and why our founding documents came to be, as well as how they have sustained our republic.” Teachers for grades four, seven and 11 will be able to download free, in-depth short videos and age-appropriate lesson plans throughout the school year; these aids will be freshened annually.

You might ask, is George Mason, the university’s namesake, in the movie? George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin, among others, are prominent. But where’s Mason? Mason, after all, was just as instrumental in creating the documents on which we continue to rule the country today, nearly 240 years later.  George Mason is in the film, at the 21-minute mark, Zywicki says. But it’s only his portrait, and in voiceover Morgan Freeman points out that Mason was one of the last holdouts who refused to sign the Constitution, for lacking a Bill of Rights. And we know how that turned out.

Write to Buzz McClain at bmcclai2@gmu.edu

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