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FROM THE EDITOR: Documentary turns lens on ‘freedom oasis’ of Pahrump

People of Pahrump enjoy their freedom to be left alone from government interference and live their lives as they see fit.

That community ideal will be center stage this weekend when the cable channel CMT will debut its second documentary, “Morgan Spurlock Presents Freedom! The Movie,” on Saturday.

The film is not all Pahrump, but a look at the idea of freedom in modern America. While the 90-minute documentary, two hours with commercials, focuses on individuals and groups around the county, Pahrump gets 12 minutes as the only town to draw the filmmaker’s lens.

“I want to find a place where freedom is alive and well every day of the week, so I’m headed to the town where almost everything is legal,” said the film’s narrator, self-proclaimed freedom-loving comedian Billy Wayne Davis.

Davis points out to the national audience that Pahrump is the only place in America that people can buy fireworks, open carry, keep exotic pets, gamble, smoke as you gamble, and buy a prostitute (he didn’t use that last term, but that’s what it is).

Davis spent four days in Pahrump with a film crew earlier this year documenting these freedoms. This included an interview with this newspaper’s publisher, Marie Wujek. Although the film crew spent more than an hour at the office, Wujek’s comment lasted less than 15 seconds.

Matthew Testa, director and producer of the film, was not sure how Pahrump was singled out for this project, but the town may have been on Spurlock’s radar from other projects because of its reputation for freedom-loving individualists.

“(Pahrump) is a place that’s a little bit apart, full of individualists,” said Testa, who works for Spurlock’s production company, Warrior Poets. “Once we began looking for places that exemplified American freedoms, and had fun characters and were living a different kind of life from everyone else in America, it was clear that Pahrump was this constellation of those stories and those kind of people.”

“Those kind of people” in the film include Ray “The Flagman” Mielzynski, exotic pet owners Zuzana Kukol and Scott Shoemaker of Rexano, and the operators of Red Apple Fireworks on Highway 160.

Of course, no trip to freedom-loving Pahrump would be complete without a trip out to the brothel Sheri’s Ranch. Maybe no one told the film crew that the brothel is actually in Nye County outside town borders because town ordinances don’t allow brothels, but that’s probably splitting hairs.

According to the CMT website, the film “explores the idea of independence and asks if we’re all still truly liberated in today’s America. Equal parts comedic and irreverent … (Davis) traverses the country on a quest to find Americans exercising their God-given freedoms, no matter the cost, because freedom isn’t free, even with a Groupon.”

Spurlock is an American documentary filmmaker best known for the 2004 Academy Award nominated “Super Size Me,” and his current show on CNN, “Inside Man.”

However, Spurlock’s involvement in “Freedom” is through Warrior Poets, and he is not in the film. His role is filled by Davis. Testa said the approach Davis took in this project is modeled after Spurlock’s work.

“(Davis) travels around in the manner of an experiential journalist meeting people and having experiences,” Testa said. “Walks a mile in their shoes to learn their take on freedom in America.”

I felt watching the segment, Warrior Poet sent me a press screener, that it portrays Pahrump in a fair way, not the ‘look-at-the-freak-show-that-is-Pahrump way the New York Times did in the February 2012 article,” “Wearing guns, and support for Ron Paul, on their hips.”

That article made it seem like everyone was blazing down roads with no stop signs and hiding from some government entity. In fact, looking through the New York Times archive, guns and brothels seem to be the theme whenever Pahrump makes its pages.

I live and worked in Las Vegas for 24 years before becoming editor of this newspaper in October. I’ve told many people that whenever I heard about Pahrump it was usually due to some wild story, mostly involving crime or government defiance by some citizens. Or an Art Bell reference. That’s part of Pahrump’s look-at-those-folks reputation. I didn’t even know the town had a winery, let alone two, before I came here. And a nice museum. And really good people who want to make Pahrump a better place to live and help others.

“Morgan Spurlock Presents Freedom! The Movie,” gives Pahrump the national stage it has long deserved, highlighting what makes the area unique without the condescending, satirical tone of other state and national media coverage.

As Davis called Pahrump, “a freedom oasis.”

It is scheduled to run at 6 p.m. our time, and then again at 8:30 p.m. Sunday’s showtimes are 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. However, times may vary depending on your cable carrier, so best to check those times yourself.

Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times

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