Jaclyn Boudreau was knocking on doors for Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign when a professor suggested she take a look at the YouTube channel, Learn Liberty, published by the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS). The videos simplify complex topics relating to economic freedom and individual liberty. Boudreau was skeptical. “No offense,” she said “but I’m not interested in the rich. I want to help the poor.”
Nevertheless, Boudreau, then a student at Bridgewater State University, did sneak a peek at the recommended videos and, as she later confessed to Institute for Humane Studies’ Grace Terzian, ended up binge watching. Boudreau would eventually work for IHS producing the very Learn Liberty video series that had made so much difference in the direction of her life. She is now creative director at the Pacific Legal Foundation, which fights for individual liberty and constitutional rights threatened by government regulations primarily through legal challenges mounted by PLF’s talented team of lawyers. PLF has expanded its communications operations to include a major emphasis on video production.
The evolution from Elizabeth Warren volunteer to libertarian was more of a revolution. “My goal didn’t really change. I still wanted to help the poor.”
The evolution from Warren volunteer to libertarian was more of a revolution. “It was a very fast transformation,” Jaclyn acknowledges to IWF. “My goal didn’t really change. I still wanted to help the poor. I just realized the ways in which I was contributing weren’t actually helping. In fact, they were creating poverty traps, and reducing the dignity of the people that I cared most about.”
Like other liberty-movement creatives, Boudreau uses film, language, design, and photography to tell stories about the people harmed by government overreach. Last year her PLF film Quota won the Lights, Camera, Liberty! Film Festival Award from the Atlas Network. Quota tells the story of black students in Hartford, Conn., who are denied entry into magnet schools because of a quota that limits the available seats for them. At least a quarter of magnet school students in Connecticut by law had to be white or Asian, and if not enough of those students enrolled, seats had to be left empty rather than go to eager Black and Hispanic kids. PLF filed a lawsuit on behalf of black and Hispanic parents, arguing that such racial quotas are unconstitutional. In response to the PLF suit, the quotas were ended.
As a communication adjunct to the lawsuit, Quota featured parents telling their own powerful stories. “This was an important film for us,” says Jaclyn. “And it was, in a lot of ways, a difficult film for us. I think there is a common approach in nonprofit filmmaking: You have your talking points neatly mapped out and when you approach a shoot, the goal is to try and get the talent to regurgitate your talking points.
“We couldn’t do that with this film. Partly because we are white filmmakers telling the story of minority clients. Partly because we aren’t on the receiving end of the struggle they’re facing. Throughout this entire case our clients have been saying the elites aren’t listening to them. The elites are telling them that they’re not seeing what they know they’re seeing.
Filmmakers like Boudreau are in the vanguard of creating a new kind of in-house documentary.
“It would have felt very inauthentic if we had gone in there with our lawyers and carefully crafted talking points and said, ‘Say this.’ So, we went in with a lot of humility. We listened. I think the incredible thing about that piece was that when we were interviewing them, our interviewees spoke about the issue the way they would have spoken about it with each other. It wasn’t the way we would have talked about it, and that’s the point.”
When PLF took up the case of Freddie Linden, a dazzling high school dancer who was being kept out of dance competitions in his South Dakota school because of a misguided interpretation of Title IX, Jaclyn’s team produced a film that featured haunting scenes of Freddie dancing to an empty auditorium. As a result of the PLF lawsuit, the South Dakota High School Activities Association dropped the prohibition that kept Freddie from dancing. His team went on to win the state championship.
In 2018, PLF filed suit on behalf of a novel group of clients: falconers. Falconers were having the frightening experience of armed government agents showing up unannounced at their doors. Federal and California laws ruled that the government could conduct warrantless searches of the homes of citizens who owned certain kinds of birds. PLF argues this is unconstitutional, insisting that Americans don’t give up their constitutional rights when they own unusual birds. Helping to make the plight of the falconers real, a movie-quality PLF film showed a falconer named Peter and his bird practicing their ancient art of falconry.
Filmmakers like Boudreau are in the vanguard of creating a new kind of in-house documentary that highlights an issue not with talking points but by telling a story. She went to London to study art direction under Alexandra Taylor, former creative guru for worldwide advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and copywriting with Will Awdry, who tells students how to find stories to tell. The PLF communications shop is quite large. It includes senior director of communications Scott Barton, media director Kate Pomeroy, outreach director Rachel Swaffer, and digital director Eric Shear. And each director has its own team. “On my team is Joseph Kast who is not only my direct report but my co-producer, and Nathaniel Hamilton, our managing editor. The brilliant thing about it is that I work with some of my closest friends. Scott, Joseph, Nate, Kate, Rachel…these aren’t just people I work with, they’re people I go to concerts with, celebrate birthdays with, and travel with,” says Boudreau.
“It would have felt very inauthentic if we had gone in there with our lawyers and carefully crafted talking points and said, ‘Say this.’”
“When I started at PLF,” says Boudreau, who is 29, “we did documentary production like most do, relying heavily on interviews with internal experts. But then a couple of years ago, Pew, Edelman, and other research organizations began publishing some revealing research about what they called ‘the trust crisis.’ What they were finding was that trust in institutions across the board, including NGOs, was at a 17-year low. And what does that mean when people aren’t trusting institutions anymore?
“We took it really seriously because it kept coming up, especially when the national conversation around fake news was heating up. There was this erosion of trust so we started paying attention to the counter reaction. It was all about authenticity. You could see it in the Edelman research, where people reported they are most likely to trust ‘people like themselves.’ You could see it in the YouTube world, where there was a huge boom of people producing direct-to-cam, not highly produced videos that were performing successfully. We realized we might have to rethink just what is credibility in this new landscape. For us, it means highlighting the everyday people fighting back. It means doing as much as possible to preserve authenticity, even if it means losing some of the polish that marketers love. We rarely use a script. And we put in a lot of effort to get to know our talent so their perspective is the one that appears in the final product.”
Tall, vivacious with a sparkling energy, Boudreau lives in Arlington, Va. Her “main squeeze” is Guy Bentley, who is also leery of government overreach. He focuses on taxation and regulation of nicotine, tobacco, alcohol, and food at the Reason Foundation. She enjoys hanging out with other liberty movement filmmakers, who had a regular happy hour before COVID-19 interrupted the scene. Boudreau is also on the Board of Directors of Feminists for Liberty, an iconoclastic group founded by libertarians Kat Murti of Cato and Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason magazine.
She is a fan of the book Goddesses for Everywoman, which encourages women to find their own identity through seven archetypal goddesses. For example, Artemis is independent, while Demeter is nurturing. “I’m more of an Artemis archetype myself.” For Boudreau, it’s important that modern women support other women even when they choose different lifestyles. “The point of progress wasn’t to trade in one socially-acceptable archetype for another. The point was choice. If you want to be a Devil-Wears-Prada-esque businesswoman, go tear it up. If you want to be a stay-at-home mom, be the best stay-at-home mom ever. We can be any of these archetypes. That’s why I joined Feminists for Liberty.”
“I come from a family of carnies. … My own childhood was disappointingly normal by comparison, but I inherited their passion for nonconformity and freedom.”
If anyone has the DNA to make artistic leaps of faith, it is Jaclyn. “I come from a family of carnies,” she explains on her website. Her grandfather’s family practiced feats of daring on motorcycles from 1910 through the 1980s. They sped at 90 degree angles around the Wall of Death, a hair raising carnival sideshow. “While my own childhood was disappointingly normal by comparison,” she says, “I inherited their passion for nonconformity and freedom. These are values I love to celebrate in my work.”
Boudreau grew up in a fishing town in Massachusetts, where her mother’s family are fishermen. “Scallopers, to be exact,” Boudreaux says. “I get ‘em by the pound.” Her parents divorced when Boudreau was young and she has no memories from before her stepparents were a part of her life. She grew up, quite happily, with two sets of parents. Boudreau’s mother, Joann, who shares Jaclyn’s positive attitude, is a hardworking entrepreneur, who founded a service to clean fishing boats. Her father, Michael, is an outdoorsman who encouraged Jaclyn as a youth to be self-reliant and curious.
Jaclyn was especially close to her paternal grandfather, Joseph, who left the carnival to become a photographer and professor of photography. She says, “He raised Luna moths, which are big, blue-green, and they almost glow. We would release them in the summer. The stars would be out, and the moths would be glittering all around us. He taught me about Greek mythology. He taught me about art. He was probably the first person to introduce me to the world of ideas, and they were aesthetic ideas.”
The college professor who recommended the Learn Liberty videos that changed Boudreau’s life was Aeon Skoble, who has penned a philosophical book on The Simpsons. In a way, Boudreau is using her art to do for others what Skoble did for her—showing the value of liberty and spreading it through storytelling. The liberty movement might have a wonky reputation, but nothing could be further from the truth. “Our imaginations—our stories—are what separate us from our chimpanzee cousins. I can’t imagine a better life than putting stories in the service of freedom and human flourishing,” says Boudreau.