Political documentaries reap windfall from Trump era

Publishing hasn't been the only medium to reap benefits from the Trump presidency. Documentaries -- especial...

Posted: Sep 1, 2018 1:02 PM
Updated: Sep 1, 2018 1:02 PM

Publishing hasn't been the only medium to reap benefits from the Trump presidency. Documentaries -- especially those with political overtones -- have also experienced a golden-age-type windfall, evident in strong summer boxoffice for movies like "RBG," with an additional spate of releases due this fall.

Just the next few weeks will see the opening of "Active Measures," director Jack Bryan's meticulous examination of the relationships and history linking President Trump to the Russian government; and "America Chaos," James D. Stern's first-person account -- as a Hillary Clinton supporter -- of the factors leading to Donald Trump's surprising election as the 45th president.

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Those projects will be augmented by several more, including high-profile premieres in September at the Toronto International Film Festival: Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 11/9," a date tied to the 2016 election; Errol Morris' "American Dharma," about Trump administration alumnus Steve Bannon; and Alexis Bloom's "Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes," a profile of the late patriarch of Fox News Channel, which has become in the eyes of many political and media observers a near-indistinguishable extension of the Trump communications operation.

Toronto received an overall increase in submissions this year, covering a gamut of topics, said Thom Powers, who programs TIFF's documentary lineup.

"As we're watching them, usually some thematic cluster will appear," Powers said. "This year, one of those thematic clusters is clearly around politics."

In "American Chaos," Stern travels the country talking to Trump supporters, after proclaiming during the campaign that "America's not gullible enough to elect a man" with his credentials.

During one of the more telling exchanges, Stern asks an older white man to identify the year to which the Trump slogan "Make America Great Again" hearkens back. He puts the time at 1957, seemingly oblivious to the fact that those years might not be viewed in the same way by women and minorities.

The film, notably, continues through election night, as a clearly crestfallen Stern watches the results, finally proclaiming, "Maybe we'll survive this too."

If "American Chaos" is a ground-level view of the campaign, "Active Measures" seeks to provide a bird's-eye perspective of how Russians cultivated Trump through the years, while documenting Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy of using espionage to undermine democracies from within.

The film interviews a who's who of political and media figures, including Hillary Clinton, the late John McCain and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who describes Trump as being "the perfect mark for the Russians."

For those who have followed coverage of the Trump-Russia story, much of this will be a rehash. But the film is skillfully assembled into what feels like a thriller, making the case articulated by investigative journalist Craig Unger (among those featured), author of "House of Trump, House of Putin," that Trump Tower became a "money-laundering paradise."

This has already been a huge summer for documentaries, with "RBG" -- the CNN Films presentation about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- the Mr. Rogers biography "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and "Three Identical Strangers" all amassing the kind of box-office returns such films rarely generate.

The popularity of those films is "reflective of a general rising trend in documentaries," Powers said, adding in regard to movie distributors, "I know they are coming to the festival hungry to find new films that can build on the successes of the summer."

In "American Chaos," Stern says he embarked on the project in part so he could "tell my kids why this is happening."

If the factors that went into Trump's election are complicated, the impetus behind the current tide of documentaries stemming from it is pretty simple: Not only do the filmmakers have something to say, but from a bottom-line perspective, there's an audience for them.

"Active Measures" and "American Chaos" premiere Aug. 31 and Sept. 14, respectively, in select theaters. "Fahrenheit 11/9," "American Dharma" and "Divide and Conquer" will play in September at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 513622

Reported Deaths: 10264
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34892556
DeSoto33234432
Hinds32638641
Jackson24854389
Rankin22507403
Lee16337242
Madison14922283
Jones14113247
Forrest13766259
Lauderdale12270324
Lowndes11305193
Lamar10659140
Pearl River9719244
Lafayette8846143
Hancock7836132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7210138
Monroe7010179
Pontotoc6990109
Warren6863178
Panola6759134
Neshoba6730210
Marshall6678141
Bolivar6445151
Union638297
Pike5928156
Alcorn5879107
Lincoln5530136
George510180
Prentiss503884
Tippah491482
Itawamba4844107
Scott477899
Adams4768125
Tate4756116
Leflore4729144
Copiah456495
Yazoo456491
Simpson4546117
Wayne443072
Covington433695
Sunflower4299106
Marion4277112
Coahoma4237109
Leake413990
Newton395781
Tishomingo383593
Grenada3777109
Stone365866
Jasper340666
Attala338290
Winston317892
Chickasaw315467
Clay312278
Clarke301195
Calhoun285049
Holmes271889
Smith269052
Yalobusha243947
Tallahatchie231553
Greene224749
Walthall221666
Lawrence218740
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster205348
Noxubee188742
Montgomery181657
Carroll174541
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152939
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134338
Humphreys131239
Franklin125529
Quitman107628
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65221
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845284

Reported Deaths: 16116
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161552006
Mobile742111380
Madison53307732
Shelby38338368
Baldwin38085589
Tuscaloosa36022641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25562263
Calhoun22586518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20018517
Marshall18782316
Houston17731425
St. Clair16884358
Limestone16148218
Cullman16054303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14989306
Talladega14196299
DeKalb12972269
Walker12030380
Blount10717192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10162194
Coffee9417192
Colbert9342208
Dale9020191
Tallapoosa7256201
Russell708165
Chilton7018170
Escambia6957143
Covington6933195
Franklin6342108
Chambers5784142
Marion5406130
Dallas5285209
Pike5119109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369580
Butler3435100
Marengo342493
Monroe337266
Randolph334867
Pickens333188
Fayette330385
Henry320666
Hale318389
Cherokee317863
Crenshaw260477
Washington257052
Cleburne254460
Lamar251453
Clay250869
Macon244864
Conecuh192862
Coosa185047
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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