In a divided America, Van Jones attempts to pass a landmark criminal justice bill — and finds himself under fire from all sides. This film is produced in association with Kartemquin Films.
In 2016, Donald Trump’s upset presidential victory leaves the country deeply divided. The progressive left prepares to fight Trump on every front. But then a presidential adviser makes a surprise announcement. Jared Kushner — whose father once served time in federal prison — wants to pursue prison reform as a major Trump administration priority.
This unexpected development creates a dilemma for TV host and activist Van Jones — who has worked for 25 years to fix the criminal justice system. Should he refuse on principle to associate himself with the Trump administration — but, in the process, effectively abandon tens of thousands of people who might be freed from horrifically long prison sentences? Or should he do all he can to free thousands of unjustly imprisoned human beings — but, in the process, possibly bolster an administration whose policies he otherwise bitterly opposes?
Jones makes his choice. Risking his reputation and relationships, Jones and his team set out to help pass a landmark bill that would fix some broken aspects of the justice system — and bring thousands of incarcerated people home early. At the same time, Jones mobilizes community leaders in rural West Virginia and urban South LA to fight together to ensure humane treatment — and not incarceration — for communities devastated by addiction.
Facing fierce opposition from both political parties in a climate where bipartisanship has become a dirty word, Jones and his team enlist the aid of formerly-incarcerated individuals, faith leaders, grassroots activists and cultural figures – including Kim Kardashian. The bill’s champions find themselves navigating a high-stakes game of political chess in Washington, D.C. Their quest brings them face-to-face with progressive champions like the U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, as well as conservative icons like the U.S. Senator Rand Paul, Kellyanne Conway — and ultimately, Donald Trump himself.
While trying to pass the bill through a polarized Congress, Jones is thrust into the center of a national debate about whether to engage or “resist” Trump. He is condemned by the right for his progressive beliefs — and by the left for working with conservatives. The film explores Jones’ isolation and internal struggles as he fights to make change in a divided nation — revealing a rare, intimate portrait of everyday people in a historic fight for freedom and justice.
THE FIRST STEP marks a unique collaboration between filmmakers Brandon and Lance Kramer and Van Jones and his partner Jana Carter. The film is independently produced by Meridian Hill Pictures and Magic Labs Media (CITY OF TREES, PBS 2016), in association with legendary filmmakers at Kartemquin Films (MINDING THE GAP, Hulu, 2019 Oscar Nomination) and Big Mouth Productions (DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD, Netflix 2020) and the editorial talent behind KING IN THE WILDERNESS (HBO, Sundance 2018) and BIRTH OF THE COOL (PBS, Sundance 2019).