You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘The Final Year’ Director on Capturing Obama’s Last Months in Office

Greg Barker set out to make a thematic bookend to “The War Room” with “The Final Year,” a look at Barack Obama’s foreign policy team over their last 12 months in office.

Whereas “The War Room,” the 1993 American documentary film about Bill Clinton’s White House campaign, captured the rough and tumble nature of a national election and the quest for power, “The Final Year” examines how people use the power they achieved and how the office changes the men and women who orbit the president.

“I had this fascination with the inner workings of government and how it functions because of these ordinary people who are operating in extraordinary jobs,” Barker told Variety on the eve of the film’s premiere at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival. “They have these taxing jobs where they’re dealing with complicated issues without any easy solution.”

The film doesn’t just focus on the 44th president. It closely follows former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes as they grapple with everything from the civil war in Syria to an upcoming presidential visit to Laos. “The Final Year” isn’t just about foreign policy debates. The film takes time to capture more mundane moments, such as Kerry sprinting from his waiting motorcade back into his house to retrieve a cellphone or Power getting her young children ready for school.

“I was trying to tell a human story,” said Barker. “Government officials can seem removed from all of us on a lot of levels. I wanted to find those moments where they’re trying to lead their normal lives. I wanted the audience to not just see these people as talking heads.”

The pace the Obama officials maintain is punishing, as they sprint to secure the president’s legacy before transferring the machinery of government — there’s an Iran nuclear deal to negotiate, an opening of relations with Cuba and several attempts at a Syrian ceasefire. Of course, there’s one looming X-factor to all their diplomatic efforts: Donald Trump.

Like many pundits, the members of Obama’s team are confident that Trump will never occupy the Oval Office and that Hillary Clinton will prevail, but that changes. Barker and his crew were on hand to capture their reactions to Trump’s upset presidential victory. Power hosted a party with Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright that took on a funereal air, while Rhodes is interviewed on election night looking stricken and at a total loss for words.

“It was extraordinary,” said Barker. “They went into the evening thinking they’d be handing over everything to friends and then it became something else entirely. It was a hugely significant moment for the country.”

Barker, whose previous films include “Manhunt,” a look at the CIA’s war on Al Qaeda, thinks the picture took on an added resonance with Trump’s election.

“It became a lot more important,” he said. “This cast of characters that we’d been tracking for a year, all their assumptions about what they had achieved and were leaving for the next administration were up for grabs. It became a kind of historic document of a monument in time that has passed.”

More Film

  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan in conversation at

    Shanghai: How Nuri Bilge Ceylan Sees the World so Differently

    At a masterclass on Thursday, Turkish film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan gave the initial impression of being an austere and unwilling participant. Wearing heavy glasses, keeping his coat on, and responding to questions rather than offering a class, his manner suggested that he was difficult. In China as the head of the Shanghai International Film [...]

  • SpiderMan Far From Home

    Hollywood Takes on Italy's Vacation-Heavy Summer Season With Blockbusters

    With upcoming movies such as “Toy Story 4,” “Men in Black: International” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” Hollywood studios are finally taking the plunge this year and slotting their blockbusters in Italian cinemas during the summer, a time when residents traditionally hit the beach en masse. For decades, the studios withheld their [...]

  • Easy Money

    Netflix Orders 'Snabba Cash' Series Based on Hit Movie Franchise from SF Studios

    Netflix has ordered a six-part original series based on the hit Swedish crime franchise “Snabba Cash” from SF Studios. Based on Jens Lapidus’s bestselling novels, the series is set in Stockholm’s gritty criminal underground ten years after the events depicted in the “Snabba Cash” (“Easy Money,” pictured) movie trilogy. The society has become even more [...]

  • The Kings Man

    Film News Roundup: Disney Sets 'The King's Man' Spy Comedy for February

    In today’s film news roundup, “The King’s Man” and “A Kid From Coney Island” get release dates, and “Barry” star Anthony Carrigan joins “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” RELEASE DATE Disney has set its Fox spy comedy prequel “The King’s Man” for release on Feb. 14, 2020. Disney made the announcement Wednesday at its [...]

  • Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light

    Shanghai Film Review: 'Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light'

    The bombastic English title might sound like it describes some comic book sci-fi epic, but in “Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light” our hero does not wear a cape but a weathered cap, and the light he guards is not an interstellar death ray but the flickering beam of a battered old movie projector. Prominent Kazakh [...]

  • Wanda Film's Zeng Maojun

    Shanghai: China's Once-Mighty Wanda Casts Itself in Role of Survivor

    The soundtrack for the introductory showreel at Wednesday evening’s Shanghai press event announcing Wanda Pictures’ annual line-up was aspirational and strangely defiant.  It began with Nina Simone crooning, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good,” and then continued with “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. “You [...]

  • 'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Fashioned 1980s'

    'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Put a Decadent Twist on Opulent ’80s Style

    Set against the backdrop of London’s early-1980s cultural renaissance, British auteur Joanna Hogg’s exquisitely sculpted and critically acclaimed “The Souvenir,” which A24 has been widening in platform release for the past month, follows film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her gradually destructive romance with the magnetic Anthony (Tom Burke). “We didn’t want a film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content