Our film Truth Tellers, began as a way to expand the audience for a project I felt was so important to our country. It is now accomplishing that with its national distribution on PBS and became a story about art, politics, and American courage.

Shortly after 9/11 and catalyzed by lies behind the attack on Iraq, artist Robert Shetterly, filled with anger and anxiety, had a choice: leave the country of his birth, or find a way to rally fellow citizens against an unjust war. So he began a passionate study of American history, searching for citizens whose dissenting voices have courageously defended democracy. He honored these heroes by painting their portraits. What he discovered led him far beyond the war in Iraq. He called the project, Americans Who Tell the Truth. Over twenty years and almost 280 portraits later, it has become his enduring passion. Into each painted portrait he scratches a quote crystallizing his subject’s core beliefs about American values and ideals.

maine masters rob shetterly with Bay School students color corrected copy

Rob Shetterly with Bay School students.

The film Truth Tellers follows Shetterly’s visits to individuals and communities across the nation, empowering Americans to emulate what he calls his “models of courageous citizenship.” The film is particularly relevant today in a climate in which teachers are often forced to teach a sugar-coated version of America ignoring our history of slavery and struggles with individuals’ gender identities.

The stories Rob collects are an urgent reminder that courage and dissent play a critical role in protecting American rights and liberties and indeed our democracy. His grief and anger launched the series. Hope for a better future drives him now.

Truth Tellers, will begin airing on PBS stations nationwide beginning 1 February 2024. Please share the film’s trailer with your friends and families around the country:  https://vimeo.com/kanelewis/truthtellers2023  and ask them to encourage their local PBS affiliate to broadcast it to their communities.

Richard Kane


Image at top: Rob Shetterly with portrait of Kelsey Juliana.