Christian Toto | Contributor
Political documentaries can jolt the cultural conversation, particularly when the focus is on some of the biggest stars in the progressive galaxy.
Think of documentaries on Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“Knock Down the House”), former Texas Rep. Beto ORourke (“Running with Beto”), Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar (“Time for Ilhan”) and ageless Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (last years hit “RBG”).
All of the above shined glowing lights on their subjects at a time when progressives are still licking their wounds over President Donald Trumps election. (RELATED: Ocasio-Cortez Says There Are Still Grounds To Impeach Trump)
Some, like “Knock Down the House,” ignored the defects some filmmakers would pounce on given the subject. The “Beto” doc comes courtesy of Crooked Media, a company founded by former Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor.
Are these films remotely fair and balanced, or is that the new normal for documentary features?
U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks about the first few months of her tenure in congress with Briahna Gray at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festivals in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Flores
“Almost Sunrise” producer Chris Sheridan isnt surprised at the new wave of progressive-friendly films.
“Generally, documentary filmmakers lean to the left,” Sheridan says, adding a small but insistent wave of conservative films like “2016: Obamas America” offer a dash of ideological balance. (EXCLUSIVE: Dinesh DSouza Tells Backstory Of His Pardon)
Sheridan, whose 2006 documentary “Abducted: The Megumi Yokota Story” chronicled the fate of a young Japanese girl captured by North Korean forces, says its only natural for a storytellers biases to bleed into the frame.
“Filmmakers have some personal connections to the subject matter,” Sheridan says, citing his own “Abduction” as an example. “We knew the subject really well. I was still biased in terms of wanting the best outcome for the family … there always has been that side to documentary filmmaking. Some are better at hiding it than others.”
Directors still should consider leaving some flaws for the audiences consideration.
“Im partial to people who try to expose the imperfections of the people theyre covering,” he says, and he suspects hes not alone. “If [audiences] feel its too pro one person that does turn people off.”
“You wanna see the dirt … even if you believe in the cause of the [documentary subject],” he adds.
Scooter Downey, co-director of the recent media expose “Hoaxed,” says filmmakers should avoid another storytelling tic regardless of ideology.
“The only unforgivable cinematic sin is to be boring,” Downey says. “These political rah-rah puff pieces tend to be yawnfests, but a fair and balanced approach can also result in something vanilla.” A lack of antagonism is sometimes vital to getting film in the proverbial can, he adds.
“Its necessary to be sympathetic to the subject of your documentary, even if you are producing what could be considered a hit piece,” he says. “Heroes have flaws. Villains have strengths. You have to show both.”
Director Michael Moore arrives for the world premiere of Fahrenheit 11/9 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Canada, September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
That advice may help explain why far-left director Michael Moores films continue to slide at the box office. His 2004 breakout smash “Fahrenheit 9/11” earned $119 million, still the highest box office for any documentary.
Last years spiritual sequel, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” by comparison, generated just $6.3 million.
Filmmaker Ted Balaker says some political documentaries are, indeed, similar to a newspapers op-ed section. The problem arises when audiences arent clued in to that fact. Theyve learned for years where to spot an op-ed as opposed to a hard-news story. Its far different when watching a politically charged documentary.
“People may wanna research who the filmmakers are and their points of view, but a film should be able to sink or swim on its own,” says Balaker, who produced the indie drama “Little Pink House” last year.
Sometimes a filmmaker cant help but lean a certain way with a subject. WhiRead More – Source