Private Project

Beyond Empire: Visions of a Peoples' Republic

Beyond Empire: Visions of a Peoples’ Republic explores the case being made for secession by the leading voices in the Vermont independence movement. Unlike other secessionist movements in America, Vermont has a unique political pedigree and vision that has “nothing to do with race.” In fact, Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery almost a century before the question was settled in the United States by civil war. It was Vermonters’ dedication to human freedom and self-determination that compelled them to form the first independent republic of Vermont.

Through a series of interviews with leading Vermont academics, political scientists, activists and analysts, Beyond Empire examines the case for Vermont independence in a contemporary context. It explores Vermont’s unique culture of independence and the political values that made a candidate like Vermont’s Bernie Sanders possible. It also goes further to examine important issues that are relevant to all Americans through a non-partisan lens.

  • J.D. Thomason
    State of Fear, The Life Exotic
  • J.D. Thomason
    State of Fear, The Life Exotic
  • Brielle King
    The Life Exotic
  • Rob Williams
    Key Cast
  • Ron Miller
    Key Cast
  • Gwen Hallsmith
    Key Cast
  • Jim Hogue
    Key Cast
  • Jonathan Martin
    Key Cast
  • Terrell "Terry" Bouricius
    Key Cast
  • Ian Baldwin
    Key Cast
  • J.D. Thomason
    State of Fear, The Life Exotic
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Political, Social Documentary
  • Runtime:
    55 minutes 9 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    March 22, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    12,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - J.D. Thomason

J.D. Thomason is a journalist and writer-turned-guerrilla-filmmaker from Oklahoma. He made his documentary debut with "State of Fear" (2016) - an award-winning investigative short covering the untold story of the murder of Eric Harris by Tulsa County Sheriff's Reserve Deputy, Robert Bates. His second documentary, "The Life Exotic (or) The Incredible True Story of Joe Scheibvogel" (2016) also achieved high praise in festivals around the world. “Beyond Empire: Visions of a Peoples’ Republic” is Thomason’s third documentary.

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Director Statement

I first learned about some of the interesting political things happening in Vermont in the mid-1990s but it wasn’t until Vermont passed single-payer healthcare that I realized just how dramatic the contrast between Vermont and the rest of the United States truly is. I decided I had to see this place for myself and, in 2014, I traveled to meet some of the people driving Vermont politics. While browsing the “local” section in a Burlington bookstore, I found a book called Most Likely to Secede – a collection of essays and articles collected from Vermont’s secessionist newspaper, Vermont Commons. After reading the book, I contacted the publisher and arranged to meet with the editors.

I traveled to Woodstock, Vermont to meet with Ron Miller and Rob Williams and we discussed the prospect of a documentary that would explore the rise of the new Vermont secessionist movement. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Bernie Sanders, the U.S. Senator from Vermont, announced he was running for President of the United States. That put the spotlight on Vermont and really showed just how important and relevant this small, rural New England farming state is.

Originally, I thought this was going to be a low-pressure, low-intensity documentary with some thought-provoking analysis from some obscure Vermont activists but I quickly realized that I was dealing with something much more profound. While the Vermont secessionist movement was talking about Vermont’s political future, it was really talking about America’s political future. So I changed gears and, instead of telling the story of how Vermont went from being an independent republic to joining the United States and becoming a policy pioneer in so many ways, I decided to tell the story of the American “Empire” as seen by some of the brightest thinkers in Vermont politics.

My goal was to remove myself as much as possible from the narrative and, instead, simply provide a forum for these voices to express themselves. I’ll admit, it was a difficult journey in some respects. With everything that was happening politically between 2015 and the wrap of shooting, it was hard to know what to leave in and what to leave out. The final product isn’t so much a history of the Vermont secessionist movement but a meditation on 21st century America as seen through Vermont eyes, hence the subtitle “Visions of a Peoples’ Republic.”