Award-Winning Documentary about Steve Bannon to Screen Friday, March 6 in Irvington, Followed by Q&A with Director
by Shana Liebman
What happens when a liberal female director embeds with Steve Bannon?
On March 6, the Irvington Theater will screen the award-winning film, The Brink, a fascinating and complicated expose of Steve Bannon. Oddly enough, it was made by two liberal female filmmakers who never thought they would make a movie like this.
The film’s producer Vanessa Guirgis first met Bannon nearly 15 years ago—when he and a group of funders bought Wellspring Media, where she worked. She remembers that he was not as conservative at the time, that, in fact, she used to call him, to his amusement, a “closet liberal.” They got along well—and when Wellspring closed in 2008, they stayed in touch, often bantering over email about politics.
But then in 2016 Bannon joined the Trump campaign, and Guirgis saw him portrayed as “an evil genius, a mastermind, Trump’s brain, Darth Vader, Death himself.”
“He was using that image as currency to maintain and grow his power,” she explains. Guirgis wanted people to know that Bannon and his colleagues were playing the media, that they were marketers and salespeople—not politicians. And the best way to do that? Make a documentary.
When Bannon agreed to be the subject of The Brink—a cinema verité style doc that follows him through the 2018 midterm elections as he tries to spread his controversial brand of nationalism—Guirgis says she had only one director in mind. “Someone who could allow Steve to drop his guard while being quietly embedded with him—someone with considerable emotional and social intelligence.” This was Alison Klayman, best known for her award-winning 2012 documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,
Despite her misgivings about Bannon, Klayman says she was attracted to the idea of seeing the right-wing camp beyond the daily news cycle. “It appealed to my curiosity to see firsthand how the people behind Trump’s win spoke about this moment and what they saw as their priorities going forward.”
She went in with a mantra—”let him underestimate me, let me never underestimate him”—which proved fortuitous.
Thirteen months later, she had reels of “unfiltered shit,” as well as insight into “how unimpressive and small his organization was. How often he was in touch with members of the mainstream press, feeding them things off-the-record. His willingness to call his own films ‘propaganda.’”
The challenge was creating a fair portrayal—which she did by using repetition, juxtaposition and humor to make a tremendously engaging yet powerful film. While there is plenty of levity and humanity, The Brink manages to expose Bannon and the whole Trump world for what they really are: opportunists ill-equipped for the problems of today.
The Irvington Theater will screen The Brink on March 6 at 7:30 pm. (For tickets, click here.)
Following the film, Alison Klayman will talk with New Yorker staff writer Andrew Marantz (Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno Utopians and the Hijacking of the American Conversation) about how to portray morally despicable people while maintaining your own moral compass and journalistic integrity.