Brooklyn-based Utopia has picked up worldwide sales rights to Hayley Garrigus’ “You Can’t Kill Meme,” a documentary feature which drills down on the political meme warfare enshrined by Donald Trump’s presidential victory in 2016.
The acquisition comes just ahead of the film’s world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival this month. An on demand release in North America is planned for this fall, Utopia announced Monday.
“You Can’t Kill Meme” explores the rise of political meme instrumentation, anticipated by a 2004 visionary non-fiction book by R. Kirk Packwood called “Memetic Magic: Manipulation of the Root Social Matrix and the Fabric of Reality.”
The film sees Garrigus interview Packwood and other figures in the meme magic world to trace the emergence of figures such as Pepe the Frog, originally a comic book slacker, and Kek, an Egyptian deity of darkness before dawn, in order to understand their centrality for alt-right advocacy. “You Can’t Kill Meme” argues that these memes delivers an inside joke, triggers an emotional reaction and creates a sense of belonging.
“What was learned in 2016 has now become standard practice,” director-cinematographer Garrigus says in voiceover.
Alternating interviews with personal details about Garrigus’ research, the doc also studies a moment of “meme magic” when alt-right assertions about Hilary Clinton’s health condition transformed into a dominant political narrative. The assertion helped move the dial on voters’ intentions and “meme” Trump into power, according to the doc.
Packwood explains the emotional origins of meme culture in a sense of social inadequacy. “You want to introduce some form of chaos to break down social hierarchy,” he argues. Other interviewers are Billy el Brujo, a white-paint faced internet meme magic worker, and Las Vegas “lightworker” Carole Michaella.
“Through conspiracy and confrontation, ‘You Can’t Kill Meme’ offers nuance in our cultural assumptions about meme culture,” said Danielle DiGiacomo, head of content at Utopia. “Utopia is ecstatic to transfix viewers with the film’s unraveling of modern-day internet communication, whose real-world implications are often oversimplified.”
“You Can’t Kill Meme” is produced by Samuel Gursky, Kerry Mack and Michael Beuttler, and edited by Beuttler and Garrigus, who spent three years working on the film. Its original music is composed by Tom Moore and Michael Beuttler.
Co-founded by Robert Schwartzman, Utopia is a sales and distribution company known for feature films including Emma Seligman’s Toronto 2020 standout “Shiva Baby,” and Annabelle Attanasio’s 2019 SXSW hit “Mickey and the Bear.”
Upcoming Utopia releases include Sundance and New Directors/New Films 2021 selections “El Planeta” and “We’re All Going To The World’s Fair”; Dasha Nekrasova’s Berlinale premiere “The Scary of Sixty-First,” in partnership with Shudder; and the Dash Snow documentary “Moments Like This Never Last” from Cheryl Dunn and Vice Studios.