In “Alt-Right: Age of Rage,” screening at the Ji.hlava doc fest, director Adam Bhala Lough takes on the machinations of white power leader Richard Spencer, balancing his philosophies against the views of Daryle Lamont Jenkins – a spokesperson for the anti-fascist movement Antifa – who has tirelessly exposed the group who led the Charlottesville march last year that ended in the death of protester Heather Heyer and dozens of injuries.
How did you arrive at the structure of “Alt-Right: Age of Rage,” in which you alternate between the white power leader Spencer and Antifa member Jenkins? Were their personalities important in deciding this way to tell the story?
It was organic. We had a lot of characters but it felt unfocused. We honed it down to those two. We felt they represented their sides well, and the polar extremes of America.
What was the most disturbing thing for you personally to discover during your filming about the state of society in the Trump era?
How much we – documentary filmmakers and media – are hated now. It was not always like this. It’s sad. I don’t work for CNN yet I was called “Fake News” on more than one occasion.
One observer of your film suggests you are a believer in inoculating audiences to hate speech groups rather than accepting they should not be given air time. Did you worry over possibly giving racists too much attention?
I have a fundamental disagreement with this thought process. My feeling is sunlight is the best disinfectant. I understand why people want to de-platform these guys but I don’t agree that’s the best tactic. We can agree to disagree.
How did your approach to filming “Alt-Right” evolve from your previous film, “The New Radical,” about technoanarchist Cody Wilson and the cryptowarrior movement?
Organically. Cody Wilson was the guy who first told me about the Alt-Right, way before [Hillary Clinton’s] infamous Reno speech. He also was helpful in putting me in touch with some of these guys and vouching for me and my approach, meaning I’m more Albert Maysles and less Michael Moore.
You filmed in volatile environments, including the Charlottesville rally in which a protester was killed. How did you plan for handling the hazards of these events and were your preparations adequate?
I mostly worry about being arrested, to be honest. I keep a paper of lawyers’ numbers in my passport. The only time I was roughed up at all was by a cop in D.C. in front of the White House. I’m more concerned about the police than the Alt-Right or Antifa.
How did your thinking about the Alt-Right change (if it did) as you spent more time in the world of its advocates?
This would be a long answer so I’ll give you one snippet. I learned that the Alt-Right is all about White Identity. It’s not an “alternative to the right wing” party that embraces people of all races like some believe. You cannot separate White Identity from it. It’s an “identitarian” movement at its core and most concerned with that aspect.
Do you believe, as many do, that Alt-Right groups have blossomed thanks to the Trump White House’s refusal to condemn them? Or are other factors just as important to the current tide?
Trump certainly has emboldened them and inspired more than a few people to come out of the shadows.
Any counsel for emerging filmmakers who might feel intimidated by diving into a politically and racially fraught subject?
If you feel intimidated, don’t do it.