About three minutes into “American Autumn: An Occudoc,” helmer-writer-narrator Dennis Trainor Jr. declares his position as one of the original players in the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement, freeing the pic to be an impassioned work of advocacy journalism and an illustrated manifesto intended to get his audience involved. Opening in limited release beginning Sept. 28, this strong, well-crafted docu preaches eloquently to the choir. Community screenings and airings on left-leaning cable outlets might further spread the word.
Trainor gathers footage, much of it shot by his crew, from “occupied” New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., recording some dramatic clashes with baton-wielding, pepper-spraying police, but concentrating more directly on event speakers and on-the-fly interviews with organizers and participants.
He also adds his own visual two cents, excerpting Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” and citing Michael Douglas’ character’s greed, meant as a satirical portrayal of villainy, but taken by a generation as a heroic role model for advancement. Charts showing the widening gap between rich and poor, worker and CEO splash vividly across the screen.
But “American Autumn” impresses most where many docus disappoint, expanding its scope without short-changing the wider subjects it covers. Trainor often pulls quotes from the Declaration of Occupation of New York, part of several graphically enhanced texts that punctuate his narrative, in order to introduce related grassroots movements. But his segues mainly spring from the fact that Occupy Wall Street itself hooked up with so many other like-minded protest groups.
Thus, in addition to airing grievances directed against banks and Wall Street by activists, professors, marchers, singers and comedians, the docu takes aim at student debt, covering marches protesting the skyrocketing cost of education; sits in on protestors seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that increased the power of moneyed interests in elections; and interviews those involved in environmental protection and climate-control issues. The docu includes footage of an anti-foreclosure group, the Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending, as it interrupts the auction of a foreclosed home.
Critiques of the military-industrial complex and its fostering of wars mirror an Iraq veteran’s impassioned diatribe against police roughing up demonstrators during an Occupy clash. This links to an annual rally against police brutality, this year featuring much larger turnout and greater diversity, thanks to the convergence of grassroots movements.
Stylistically, seemingly disparate components — news footage, snippets of speeches and interviews, guerrilla camerawork, bold graphics and even songs — are unified in free-association under the director/narrator’s rallying cry, unhampered by any pretense to objectivity. As one interviewee states, it’s all a question of storytelling.