Ever since the success of Michael Moore’s 2004 “Fahrenheit 9/11,” filmmakers have gone on to direct many political documentaries – all in hopes of shaping the elections. After the 2016 election, the result of the unpredictable and unprecedented victory of Donald Trump ended up inspiring the creation of even more political documentaries.
With documentaries about data manipulation by big tech companies like Facebook and online digital consulting firms such as Cambridge Analytica, documentaries about the onslaught on democracy and voting rights, hurried documentaries about the mishandling of the coronavirus, and documentaries about historical icons like the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, these 10 essential political documentaries below examine what’s at stake in the last weeks leading up to the 2020 election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
The fundamental topics explored in these necessary docs defy partisanship, and they are issues that should matter to any voter who cares about election integrity, public safety, voting rights and human rights.
All In: The Fight for Democracy (d. Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes)
Where to watch: Netflix
The history of voter suppression indeed began with the Founders, who wrote into the Constitution that the requirements to vote were only male and a landowner, which only ended up allowing 6 percent of the population to vote. This movie gives rich insights into the Civil War amendments that granted African Americans the right to vote, which ended up leading to greater suppression of voting rights over the years with political intimidation, violence, and regressive Jim Crow laws.
From the decade protests of women fighting for the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment – which ended up getting ratified to only white women in 1920 – to more protests all the way to the Selma march in 1965 where Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, mandating oversight voter protection laws for minorities. Yet, that even dismantled after conservative appointees Supreme Court led by John Carpenters overturned key components of the Voting Rights Act, which led to greater restrictions and decreased voter turnout that has occurred for the last 10 years from Voter ID laws, voting purges, and closure of polling precincts in vicinities where minorities reside. The film also examines the concept of gerrymandering, that allows politicians to draw their own districting laws that give their party more legislative power.
Alt-Right: Age of Rage (d. Adam Bhala Lough)
Where to watch: Netflix
The “alt-right” movement was a radical movement that tried repackaging and rebranding white supremacy as something hip, intellectual, and normal. One of the movement’s leaders, Richard Spencer, ended up putting the alt-right into the national spotlight with his “Unite the Right” rally that ended in tragedy in Charlottesville, Va. The film also focuses on longtime anti-fascist activist Daryle Lamont Jenkins who openly condemns the inflammatory rhetoric of white supremacists.
Filmmaker Adam Bhala Lough uses compelling parallel interviews highlighting the history of Jenkins’ anti-racist activism that also shows the political origins of the alt-right. The film also includes a fascinating interview with Southern Poverty Law Center writer and member Mark Potok, who gives essential and vital commentary on what led us to such division and racism. The film also shows in tragic detail the events that led to the death of Heather Heyer in 2017 when she was run over and killed by an alt-right activist. “Alt Right: The Age of Rage” is certainly a riveting and pivotal documentary that will hopefully be a learning lesson in the near future. (Netflix)
The Brainwashing of My Dad (d. Jen Senko)
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
“The Brainwashing of My Dad” is one of the most personal political documentary you will ever see. By mixing clever animation done by Bill Plympton, Jen Senko explores how her father, Frank, went from a Kennedy-loving family man, who was once very kind, to a more hateful man, pushing his family away, after becoming obsessed with political propaganda and misinformation.
The Edge of Democracy (d. Petra Costa)
Where to watch: Netflix
Even though this film is about Brazilian politics and the demise of Brazilian democracy which led to the victory of far-right Brazilian President Jair Balsanero, the themes resonate and echo the current political environment here in the United States. Filmmaker Petra Costa’s film is chilling and equally solemn – a tragic look at how far-right populism spread within Brazil, and how it’s occurring now across the globe.
One might ask how does this happen? Well in Brazil, a sinking economy and massive political corruption from its liberal political parties has allowed the opposing party the opportunity to rise and promise massive reforms that ended up with greater division and political turmoil. The film also becomes very personal as Costra recollects her own memories with old archival footage and photos of her family’s roots and activism in upholding the notion of democracy within Brazil, only for it to sadly slip away right in front of her with Brazil’s current political environment. “The Edge of Democracy” is an eloquent and fascinating documentary that should serve as a warning for all democratic nations.
Fahrenheit 11/9 (d. Michael Moore)
Where to watch: Vudu
The documentary’s title is indeed a sequel “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which played on Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” and it allowed Moore to explore the Bush administration’s handling of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the misguided war in Iraq. This time the title is reversed because that was the date when Donald Trump was as the 45th president of the United States. This is the sequel nobody anticipated, but it remains every bit as crucial as Moore’s previous polemics.
Moore targets establishment Democrats for playing into the status-quo for too long, President Obama caving into the establishment, and the disastrous Flint Water crisis. While certainly a cautionary documentary that raises numerous existential and uncertain questions on the fate of America, Moore does provide a shimmer of hope and change from activism of underpaid school teachers, to ordinary American’s now running for Congress against establishment Democrats, all the way to Parkland school shooting survivors turned gun safety activists that certainly proves hope can be discovered in times of dark despair.
Feels Good Man (d. Arthur Jones)
Where to watch: Amazon Prime and Vudu
Remember when Pepe the Frog was charming and innocent – before the popular meme character was turned into a hate symbol? “Feels Good Man,” a documentary that is beyond heartbreaking, follows the original creator, Matt Furie, from his origins of Pepe to its regression, which involved many court battles including one with far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who made money off Furie’s intellectual property by selling T-shirts and posters of Pepe the Frog.
The film chronicles all the history and details of the creation, rise and transformation of Pepe the Frog. Once the meme got widely mainstream, 4Chan users took the positive image of Pepe and made him very negative, hateful, and tragically a symbol for white supremacy.
Meanwhile, the positive, caring and sensitive Furie can’t comprehend how his creation has turned into such a symbol of hate. Despite all the distressing nihilism that the documentary exposés, the film is the perfect anecdote we all need right now. During a beautiful moment in the film we see Hong Kong Protestors transcend the image of Pepe during their protests as they fight for democracy, freedom, and independence. “Feels Good Man” becomes a flare for hope, and also a reminder that evil and hate never triumphs in the end.
Get Me Roger Stone (d. Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme)
Where to watch: Netflix
It is crazy to think someone as corrupt and as unethical as Roger Stone, a convicted felon who was involved with Watergate, could still work in politics all these years. Stone is a reflection of everything that is wrong with politics as he has been heavily involved with PACS, Super-PACS, lobbyists, corporatism, and generating more division.
Instead of just crafting an expose, filmmakers Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme use a cinema-verite style documentary that allows Stone to do all the talking – revealing him to be the corrupt individual that he is with his own words and undoing as the documentary unravels. Even though many will not be able to tolerate the sight of Stone for a 90-minute documentary, it is still a raw and fascinating portrait of a sinister individual that’s been in the political discourse for decades.
The Great Hack (d. Karim Amer and Jehane Noujain)
Where to watch: Neflix
This film is as gripping as any thriller, filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Nojain lay out the tragic story of how users allowed algorithms and data collection to further misinformation and division during the last election cycle that is still apparent today. It showcases how misinformation is a huge threat to our democracy and sadly echoes the patterns of other fascist movements during the 30s.
Sadly all this leads to Cambridge Analytica, the British data research company that began as novice and harmless political campaigns, and eventually was co-opted with an agenda that has built unethical “personality” questionnaires that eventually targeted millions of Facebook users with fake-news, outside foreign influence, and propaganda that targeted many undecided voters. While the company went bankrupt – both morally and financially after they admitted their tactics to an undercover reporter – the damage has already been done.
RGB (d. Julie Cohen and Betsy West)
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
“RBG” is an essential and moving portrait of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in her final years before her tragic passing back. Justice Ginsberg will always be championed throughout U.S. History for playing a crucial role for equality, freedom, justice, and voting rights. Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West do a terrific job in delivering an engaging documentary that not only celebrates a woman for her principles on and off the court, but one that is marked by bipartisanship and human decency. All around, “RGB” should be a timely watch as it offers an irresistible blend of activism, politics and family that is constructed together so superbly that it will leave you longing for more RBG’s in the future.
Totally Under Control (d. Alex Gibney, Ophelia Haratyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger)
Where to watch: Hulu
Urgent and certainly essential during the tragic COVID-19 era, “Totally Under Control” unfolds less like a documentary and more like a riveting cable news story. There is no doubt this film should be commended for getting released in such a timely matter.
Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) and co-directors Ophelia Haratyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger deliver a sophisticated and engrossing just weeks before the upcoming election and the virus’ inevitable second wave of infection.
Done with passion and vigor, the film is very up with the moment. Even the end credits inform us how Trump contracted COVID-19. Gibney and his directing team rushed out an important disclosure of a film that’s a reminder that public safety should have never been politicized during the midst of a global pandemic that still carries on today with no national plan at sight.
Robert Butler is an award-winning filmmaker from Ortonville whose most recent feature length movie, “Love Immortal,” won Best Horror Feature Film at the 24th annual Indie Gathering International Film Festival and is now available to purchase. For more of his reviews, visit defactofilmreviews.com.
Credit: Source link