UPDATED Steve Bannon eluded paparazzi but showed up for the world premiere Wednesday of Errol Morris-directed “American Dharma,” the documentary about him that has created a stir at the Venice Film Festival following its press screening.
On Thursday, Bannon’s press team denied that the former top Trump advisor attended the screening.
The former top Trump adviser, who was recently dropped as a participant at The New Yorker festival, was expected to enter the Sala Grande theater on the Lido via the red carpet. Instead, Bannon walked in through a side entrance just as the screening was about to start and sat in a balcony seat at the back.
He was dressed informally in a dark T-shirt and looked quite scruffy. Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera said Bannon’s security detail had advised him not to attend and confirmed that the alt-right maven entered the screening through a side door.
Bannon’s press team in a statement on Thursday said that instead, during the Wednesday afternoon screening, the alt-right maven “was in a [Venice] hotel in meetings with a reporter and Giorgia Meloni of the Brotherhood of Italy,” the statement said. Meloni is the leading lady of Italy’s right. Her party, which is actually known as The Brothers of Italy, traces its roots to the post-Fascist Italian Social Movement founded in the 1940s by Benito Mussolini’s supporters.
Also on Thursday, the Venice press office said that Bannon had been identified by a festival security guard but that Barbera himself had not seen him, opening up the possibility of a mis-identification on the security guard’s part.
During a press conference before the official screening, Morris was grilled by journalists who asked whether dedicating a film to Bannon was “normalizing” his right-wing views. That point was also raised by Variety critic Owen Gleiberman in his review.
“If you walked into ‘American Dharma,’ Errol Morris’s documentary about Stephen K. Bannon, knowing nothing about Donald Trump’s former adviser (who he is, what he’s done, what he stands for), you’d probably find him to be a fascinating, compelling, and at times even charming figure,” Gleiberman wrote. “If that sounds like a swipe against the movie, it is.”
“Did I struggle with the question?” Morris said at the press conference. “The answer is yes. If the question is am I still struggling with it, the answer would still be yes.”
However, he added, “my answer is not to remain silent and not make the movie. I believe I’ve done something different….Trying to explore the nature of what [Bannon] calls national populism, what it means for the world, for my country, I think is absolutely essential.”
The film’s world premiere elicited a mostly warm response from the audience – several minutes of clapping and one isolated “Boo.” Bannon slipped out before the lights went back on, as quietly as he had slipped in.