Monday, November 12, 2018

DOC NYC Spotlight: Exit

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eighth year in New York City from November 8th-15th.

Directed by Karen Winther
Festival Screenings

Technological advances and other modernizations have made it so that many of the tasks that used to take a good amount of time can be done instantaneously and with minimal effort. While this is often perceived as leading to millennials and other current generations being lazy, it has also given birth to an entirely new energy, one that inspires youth to become invested in causes with their energy, determined to create change and make their voices heard. This can be a positive thing, but immersion in certain interests can also be incredibly dangerous since nothing is more motivating than a belief system.

Director Karen Winther used to be an active member of a violent right-wing organization, and getting through that time and back to a healthier lifestyle and worldview has prompted her to find others with similar experiences of being in very deep and then finally getting out to the other side. Through interviews with several people from the United States, Germany, and Denmark, Winther looks at what motivates people to join extremist movements, both on the left and on the right, and how the fear and hate that they feel can be channeled into something much more productive once the hold on them has been broken and they are ready to leave that life behind.

The notion of escaping a pervasive ideology has been explored in a number of documentaries, often dealing with stringent religious groups or cults. As mass shootings in the United States become all too frequent and political conversations are laced with inciting rhetoric, this documentary feels especially timely. The stories told by these reformed extremists are disturbing, as they reflect back upon the violence they used and the vitriolic feelings they expressed regularly towards anyone who didn’t fit their idea of normal. While they now do what they can to educate others on the wrongness of their past, there’s a sense that it’s far too late for them, as they’ve done many things that they regret and can never hope to make up for, even with acts of love and inspiration.

Locating those who were able to make a break with the various movements that had a firm hold over their followers is a difficult enough task, and those willing to talk about what they did to others is an even more limited pool. Yet Winther succeeds at finding just a few subjects who help to illustrate the recruitment tactics used to compel people to join and then to stay, examining the role of gender and community in it as well. The strongest takeaway is that extremism in its many forms remains a threat to society all over the world, with this film as a great step in the right direction, highlighting its dangers and its potency to an audience that might hopefully include those who don’t believe it exists.


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