The Female Filmmakers Turning Popcorn Into Politics

Sarah Ullman and Mara Tasker of One Vote At a Time shoot with the founders of the Pussyhat Project for an upcoming documentary. Photo credit: Lauren Kushner

Creating positive change after the death of a loved one feels near-impossible. But One Vote at a Time, a grassroots SuperPAC that creates progressive political ads, helped Paula Hartbank do exactly that. The group, which consists entirely of female filmmakers, transformed Hartbank's story of losing her sister to domestic violence into a potent gun control ad that led to critical reform in Nevada in 2016. Now, One Vote at a Time has its sights set on progressive causes throughout the entire country.

Hartbank says she still thinks of her sister, Mary Inman, and the the first thing that comes to mind is her humor. They lived in separate states — Hartbank in Wyoming and Inman in Nevada — but it didn't matter. They chatted daily on the phone about everything, from work and family to their plans for the future. And despite the distance, Hartbank couldn't help but crack a grin when conversing with her little sister.

"We just had a lot of plans. We were going to retire together, we were going to go to Salt Lake City and buy houses next to each other," Hartbank tells Bustle. "She was truly just a remarkable person who always made you laugh."

Those plans never came to fruition. On April 30, 2011, Inman was reportedly shot and killed by her ex-husband. She had already filed for divorce from him and had a restraining order, but those measures didn't save her. (Her ex-husband was found dead, having committed suicide, a day after Inman was killed.)

Inman's ex was a felon. In Nevada, according to state law, it is illegal for a person who has been convicted of a felony to possess a firearm. However, there were loopholes, and Hartbank wanted to help close them.

Hartbank shared her sister's story with Sarah Ullman, co-founder of One Vote at a Time, to make "Mary's Story." The video project focused on Inman's life and was made to support the 2016 Nevada Background Checks for Gun Purchases Initiative. The legislation required more stringent background checks on guns. On Election Day, the initiative passed by 50.4 percent — just over 9,000 votes.

In December 2016, Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt effectively put the law indefinitely on hold, deeming it unenforceable, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. However, that has not deterred the women of One Vote at a Time. They are only more dogged and persistent.

After all, its name originates from a quote by Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who survived a fatal gun attack in 2011 and has since emerged as a vocal gun control advocate: "If Congress won't change gun laws, then we'll have to change Congress, one vote at a time." Prevailing slowly but surely is the name of the game.

While Ullman and co-founder Lauren Kushner initially founded One Vote at a Time during the 2016 election to advocate for gun safety legislation, she has since expanded its mission to help elect progressive politicians at all levels of government.

"We all share progressive values," Ullman tells Bustle while describing her team of filmmakers. "Health care is a human right, reproductive rights are human rights, we believe climate change is real, we believe that racism is virulent and a structural problem that we must tackle."

One Vote at a Time is currently crowdfunding to create campaign videos for progressive candidates to turn Virginia's House of Delegates blue in the November 2017 election. All 100 seats in Virginia's House are up for election in 2017. While the state is Democratic at the national level, the House of Delegates is predominantly red. "These political races have really important impact at the national level, and also on a local level for Virginians," Ullman says.

Ullman describes her strategy as a deep dive into local communities, to bring voice to those impacted by certain policies. "We like to say that our videos are neighbors talking to neighbors and the issues that we address in the campaign ads are going to be issues that the community's tell us are important to them."

She says that by the end of the summer, One Vote at a Time will have produced at least 10 political advertisements since its 2016 inception.

"When we form a team of women and we all have a shared mission and a shared belief and a shared view of what the world should be, it's just fun," Ullman says. "The symbolism of it means something to me, the symbolism of a team of women fighting back."