Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sundance with Abe: Trumped

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fourth time. I had the chance to see a number of films and will be posting reviews of everything I see!

Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time
Directed by Banks Tarver, Ted Bourne, and Mary Robertson
Doc Premieres

No one expected Donald Trump to win the presidential election. Regardless of personal or political beliefs about the man, the numbers were against him. The whole time, he said he was going to win, and no matter what he said he would do and how unlikely he was to actually do it, he came through. During the election, Showtime was filming and airing a series called “The Circus” covering this truly crowded and unique election. After the surprising results of the election, the team behind the show felt the urgency to edit hours of used and unused footage together into a film to chronicle how this could possibly have happened.

Before the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival, executive producer John Heilemann, a co-host of "The Circus" who appears extensively in the film, asked the audience first who hated Trump and then who didn't like him but could tolerate the idea of him as president. Heilemann then apologized for the way the film ended - "it's not our fault!" - before the film began. Such an introduction does not recommend a film that paints Trump in a positive light.

Yet this is an amazingly objective documentary, one that presents clips and testimonials and deliberately frames all commentary as just that. The moments at which Trump's campaign seemed in jeopardy or completely over as presented and then analyzed by Heilemann and his co-hosts are shown, and the narrative runs from his proclamation of his candidacy straight through to Election Day. Other candidates are seen speaking about Trump, often directly to the "Circus" team. The level of access to Trump himself is extraordinary, and numerous interviews and interactions with him help to gauge how he is really feeling along the campaign trail.

When asked about this relationship at a Q & A following the screening, Heilemann shared that Trump first liked him when he said that Trump should be taken seriously as a candidate. Though he didn't mean to lend legitimacy to his campaign, he believes Trump saw it as a compliment and didn't care about its implications. You would expect that a film from people who so clearly think Trump shouldn’t be president would be biased against him, yet what this film does is hit all the points at which he could have been stopped but wasn't by the many people in his path who he took down.

This will be a difficult film for those unhappy with Trump's election and his actions as president to watch. The resounding silence at the end of the screening that was interrupted at least a full ten seconds later by applause is telling of what this film is meant to be. It is an excellently-prepared chronicle of journalism that traces what happened to get from where we were to where we are now. Watching the faces of these experienced journalists with numerous covered campaigns until their belts as they realize what is happening is incredible, and while, as someone leaving the screening said, this won't be the last documentary about Trump, it is certainly a formidable and furtively interesting model.


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