A Look at Barney Frank’s 45-year Public Career and Struggle to Integrate His Private Life in Documentary Film ‘Compared to What’

Award-winning Filmmakers Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler to Raise Funds Online for Barney Frank Film


As Barney Frank puts it, ‘There are things that a civilized society needs that we can only do if we do them together”


Independent filmmakers Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler are turning to the Internet to raise funds for their latest feature documentary, “Compared to What? The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank,” an intimate and entertaining portrait of the controversial and outspoken politician. Their film has 60 days beginning on Tuesday, January 27, to raise $85,000 on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. When asked about the crowdfunder, Canavan said, “We’ve had enthusiastic response from festival audiences, and we hope that this campaign will connect the film to people who will help us bring it to a much wider audience.”


Of paramount concern to the filmmakers is the threat that decades of anti-government rhetoric pose to our democracy. As Barney Frank puts it, ‘There are things that a civilized society needs that we can only do if we do them together,’” Chandler said of his motivation to make the documentary. The film also explores how Frank overcame the challenges of being closeted to become a leading voice for LBGT rights.  “For me,” Frank said in the film, “it’s been a disparity between a very satisfying public career and a private life in turmoil.” Through his comeback story, Canavan and Chandler delve deeply into the meaning and sacrifice of a life devoted to public service.
Filmmakers Michael Chandler and Sheila Canavan

Chandler has a distinguished record as a documentary filmmaker, covering controversial subjects like the burning of black churches in the South (“Forgotten Fires”). Canavan and Chandler’s award winning “Knee Deep” – and now “Compared to What” – reveal a preference, much like Frank’s, for approaching difficult subjects with a sense of humor. Canavan, who is a lawyer as well as a filmmaker, first exposed the Wall Street/subprime mortgage connection in groundbreaking legal work in 2003.  She served on the Federal Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council and is cited in the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s official report. The film tackles the role of both political parties in deregulating the financial industry and shreds the myth that it was the government, rather than Wall Street, that caused the financial crisis.

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The first openly gay Congressman in the United States (and arguably the most influential gay politician the country has ever seen), the pioneering Barney Frank looks back on his four decades in office in Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler’s intimate and incredibly charming documentary. Quick-witted and lionhearted, the film’s candid conversations with Frank feel like something you could keep watching for hours without ever getting bored, and sheds light on how his own homosexuality informed the social justice campaigns he has pursued in office.



Sheila Canavan, Producer/Director

Sheila produced the award-winning feature documentary Knee Deep. She makes her directorial debut in Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank. Sheila grew up in Boston and met Barney Frank as a young college student, when she and Mr. Frank were working for Mayor Kevin White. Sheila is a well-known consumer law attorney concentrating in predatory lending fraud and the financial abuse of the elderly, served on the Federal Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council from 2004-2006 and is quoted on p.17 of the official government report on the financial crisis. Please see more here. Sheila’s other film work includes Yosemite, The Fate of Heaven and Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey.

Michael Chandler, Producer/Director

Michael Chandler is an Academy-Award nominated filmmaker, working in non-fiction and fiction film. Knee Deep won four Best Documentary Awards, including the prestigious Maysles Brothers Award, and aired on PBS Independent Lens.  Forgotten Fires, on the burning by Ku Klux Klansmen of Black churches in South Carolina, also aired on PBS. Bill Moyers said about it: “If we wanted a real dialog about race in America, we’d start with this film.”  Michael wrote and edited the documentaries Freedom on My Mind (Academy Award Nomination, Sundance Grand Jury Prize), Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven (Emmy), and Can’t It Be Anyone Else? (Christopher Humanitarian Award, ACE Award), edited Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey (Academy Nomination) and The Squires of San Quentin (Academy Nomination), and was consulting editor and co-writer on The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (Academy Nomination). He has produced and directed documentaries for the PBS series Frontline, including Blackout, The Future of War, and Secrets of the SAT, which won First Prize in Broadcast Journalism from the Education Writer’s Association. Michael has also edited feature films, including Never Cry Wolf, Mishima, and Amadeus, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

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