With only three weeks before a particularly consequential Election Day, political movies — both documentaries and docudramas — are flooding the market in an effort to keep voters engaged and enraged.
Most prominent are Aaron Sorkin’s star-studded “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Alex Gibney’s pandemic response expose “Totally Under Control” and Liz Garbus-Lisa Cortés’ “All In: The Fight for Democracy.”
But that’s just the tip of the political iceberg of movies taking advantage of the heightened political climate this month. There’s also “The Soul of America,” directed by KD Davison and based on Jon Meacham’s 2018 book “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.” The film explores historical challenges such as the women’s suffrage movement, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII, and the struggle to pass Civil Rights legislation. HBO is airing on Oct. 27.
The footage includes an interview with the late John Lewis at his office on Dec. 18, 2019 — the same day the House launched impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Lewis discussed his long career of civil rights activism, including being beaten in 1965 at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in an event known as Bloody Sunday.
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“John Lewis was crying when he talked about the bridge,” Davison recalls. “Everyone on the crew was too.”
Davison notes that she took on the directing assignment as a way to give hope during a depressing time.
“I find it disconcerting that many people don’t have a strong sense of history but we have been through these dark hours before,” she notes. “I have family members in Texas, who are on the other side of the political spectrum, so I’m hoping that my film can reach the 20% of undecided voters.”
Davison also said she’s particularly pleased about the array of political films such as Dawn Porter’s “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and Julie Taymor’s Gloria Steinem biopic “The Glorias.”
“Gloria Steinem suggested that I interview the historian Lisa Tetrault, which turned out to be a great idea,” she adds. “I’m really excited about the ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ because I’ve always been a huge Tom Hayden fan.”
Topic is giving an exclusive Oct. 29 release to “American Dharma,” directed by Errol Morris, two years after its Venice Film Festival premiere. It’s based on 16 hours of interviews and dialogue with former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon on his background, belief system, his worldview and his feelings on President Trump.
Ryan Chanatry, general manager of Topic, said “American Dharma” fits in well with the streamer’s efforts to position Topic as a home for “provocative and entertaining” content such as “The Fight,” which follows legal battles that lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union are facing during the Trump administration.
“When you watch ‘American Dharma,’ it leaves you with more questions, no matter where you are on the political spectrum,” Chanatry added.
Amazon Studios released “All In: The Fight for Democracy” on Prime Video on Sept. 18. It’s directed by Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmakers Garbus and Cortés and focuses on Stacey Abrams, who ran as the Democratic Party’s nominee in the 2018 gubernatorial election in Georgia and was the first Black woman to be a major-party gubernatorial nominee in the United States. She narrowly lost to Republican Brian Kemp, who was accused by Abrams of voter suppression activities after he refused to resign as secretary of state while campaigning for governor.
The campaign for “All In” is targeting voter registration and education with a 22-city bus tour; financial grants given to 14 local organizations in 10 states with stricter voter restrictions; the Ground Game campaign initiative working to register more than 100,000 voters and distribution of “know our rights” materials to at least 1 million voters.
The campaign has already recruited 20 “teacher ambassadors” who will be trained to teach other teachers in their schools and networks on how to utilize these free resources in the classroom.
Here’s a look at the many titles seeking to illuminate aspects of the political system in advance of the election.
— “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” directed and produced by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés. Stacey Abrams is producer, narrator and activist in this significant film depicting the history of voter suppression and her own story of narrowly losing the 2018 gubernatorial election in Georgia. It was released in a limited theatrical release on Sept. 9 followed by digital streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 18
— “American Dharma,” directed by Errol Morris, based on 16 hours of interviews with former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon on his background, belief system, his worldview, his current feelings on President Trump, and how films such as “Twelve O’Clock High” and “The Searchers” became part of Bannon’s understanding of the world. Streaming on Topic site starting Oct. 29.
— “And She Could Be Next,” directed by Grace Lee and Marjan Safinia. It’s a miniseries focused on women of color who are political leaders including Stacey Abrams, Bushra Amiwala (Illinois), Maria Elena Durazo (Los Angeles), Veronica Escobar (Texas), Lucy McBath (Atlanta), Rashida Tlaib (Detroit) and Nse Ufot. Aired on PBS in July and is available for streaming on Amazon, iTunes and Comcast.
— “Boys State,” directed and produced by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine. The film follows 1,000 teenagers attending Boys/Girls State in Texas working to build a representative government from the ground up. “Boys State” won the U.S. Documentary Competition Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Released on Aug. 14 and available on Apple Plus.
— “The Glorias,” directed and produced by Julie Taymor, from a screenplay by Taymor and Sarah Ruhl. It is based upon My Life on the Road” by Gloria Steinem. Julianne Moore stars as Steinem, with Alicia Vikander portraying a younger Steinem, from ages 20 to 40. Began streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.
— “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” directed by Dawn Porter. The film explores his childhood experiences, his fateful meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957 and the obstacles he faced on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health care reform and immigration. It was released shortly before Lewis died at the age of 80 this summer. Magnolia Pictures and Participant began streaming on July 3.
— “MLK/FBI,” directed by Sam Pollard from a screenplay by Benjamin Hedin and Laura Tomaselli. It follows Martin Luther King Jr. as he is investigated and harassed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. IFC bought the film last month at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival and will release it on Jan. 15, the start of the MLK holiday weekend.
— “Not Done: Women Remaking America,” directed by Sara Wolitzky. The documentary covers the last four years from Hillary Clinton’s defeat as the first female presidential nominee to Kamala Harris running for Vice President, the Women’s March, #MeToo, #TimesUp, Black Lives Matter and the fight for trans lives. Interviewees includes #metoo founder Tarana Burke, Natalie Portman, Shonda Rhimes, Gloria Steinem, Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen and New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. PBS airs on Oct. 27.
— “RBG,” the 2018 documentary directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen and released to theaters and on demand by Magnolia Pictures and Participant following Ginsburg’s death on Sept. 18. It chronicled the story of Ginsburg’s rise to the nation’s highest court while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon. It’s available on demand through Magnolia.
— “The Soul of America,” directed by KD Davison. Based on John Meacham’s 2018 book “The Soul of America: The Battle for Out Better Angels.” The film explores historical challenges such as the women’s suffrage movement, the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII, McCarthyism, and the struggle to pass Civil Rights legislation. Includes interviews with George Takei and the late John Lewis. Airing on HBO on Oct. 27.
— “The Trial of Chicago 7,” written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. The film follows the trial of the Vietnam War protesters charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Cast includes Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, and Eddie Redmayne. Netflix starts streaming on Oct. 16.
— “The Way I See It,” directed by Dawn Porter. a documentary about former White House photographer for Reagan and Obama was released in theaters on Sept. 18 and premieres on MSNBC a month later on Oct. 16. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have endorsed the movie. Can also be streamed on Fubo TV.
— “Totally Under Control,” directed and produced by Alex Gibney with Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger. The two-hour film focuses on the early days of the pandemic and how the government’s chaotic response devastated the country. Opened Oct. 9 in drive-ins, Oct. 13 on demand and Oct. 20 on Hulu.
— “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump,” directed by Dan Partland. The film explores the contention that President is a “malignant narcissist” and the qualities that define that syndrome: paranoia, anti-social personality disorder, and sadism. A A Dark Star Pictures release that became available on demand on Aug. 28.