Compared to 2017, this year's doc scene felt somehow less vibrant (if stats have any value, I listed half the number of entries but I've watched the same amount, more or less). Two YouTube montages stood out: The Road Movie and Our New President, both set in Russia and both dealing with the post-tv mediascape. The former dispenses an overdose of bizarre dash-cam footage to provide a post-human look at the state of the country through the eyes of vehicular subjectivity: in a sense, The Road Movie is the ultimate Ballardian film. The latter is an assemblage of Russian propaganda aimed at both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump collected from various sources, including YouTube, RT, and other shady media platforms. I listed Dirty Money at number two, but I really meant only the first episode, directed by Alex Gibney, on the so-called Dieselgate. Gibney’s masterful reconstruction of the Volkswagen’s scandal highlights the connection between Nazism, technocratic rationalism, the car manufacturing industry as a whole, and climate change. Dieselgate was not a conspiracy theory but a real conspiracy. Dirty Money reminds us that capitalism and the environment are mutually exclusive. In many ways, Dieselgate is the reason why these days France is on fire and Emmanuel Macron will be likely remembered as the most hated President in the history of the country.
Money is not only dirty, but also dark. Kimberly Reed’s eponymous doc felt like the sequel to Get Me Roger Stone! They both make clear that the American political system in inherently rotten and unless a major overhaul is undertaken, the future will be bleaker than the dystopian present we live in (see Lawrence Lessig's new book, America Compromised for more information). Roberto Minervini's latest film - the only doc that I saw at a film festival this year (Venice) – confirms his status as the most talented Italian director working today – while Carlo Ferrand’s fascinating mixed-media portrait of Walter Benjamin (courtesy of Festival Scope) is not as enlightening as I hoped, but it is nonetheless, grand. PFOA, the synthetic chemical used in Teflon that has been contaminating non human animals and human animals since its creation it’s the “protagonist” of The Devil We Know. DuPont has been aware of the toxicity of this substance since 1961 and, obviously, has not done anything about it aside from obfuscating maneuvers, ignoring the victims, and engaging in PR efforts to lie about its "safety", pretty much like Johnson & Johnson's poisoning children with asbestos in their talcs. Stephanie Soechtig’s documentary is basically an update to Marie-Monique Robin’s The World According to Monsanto: Who’s more evil, Monsanto/Bayer or DuPont? It’s like asking if vampires are more lethal than zombies. Corporate America is going to kill you, one way or another. Choose your poison, pick your product: Roundup, subprimes loans, Johnson & Johnson's talc and/or Teflon. The Devil We Know is possibly the best horror film of the year, as the title suggests.
The most shocking revelation of Morgan Neville’s Won't You Be My Neighbor?? is that Mister Rogers was a Republican (!). It’s an ironic discovery – at least for me – considering that today the GOP stands for everything that the gentle TV presenter despised: bigotry, racism, ignorance, corruption, misogyny, and greed. Times have changed indeed. Liz Garbus’s analysis on The New York Times’s reaction to Trump's victory in the 2016 election was already anachronistic by the time it was released, pace Michael Barbaro. It’s not her fault: the 24-hour news cycle is not exactly conducive to the documentary format and this particular analysis did not age well. Alyson Clayman’s doc Take Your Pills is the unofficial adaptation of Jonathan Crary’s 24/7. I gave her extra points for featuring my heroine, UC Berkeley’s Professor Wendy Brown. Shirkers, Three Identical Strangers, Wild Wild Country, Eating Animals left me a bit cold: they only partially work. On the other hand, Lauren Greenfield's Generation Wealth was a huge disappointment: unfocused, didactic, self-indulgent, and - gosh - boring. Among the many docs I missed this year are Frederick Wiseman’s Monrovia, Indiana, RaMell Ross’s Hale County, This Morning, This Evening, Jennifer Baichwal + Edward Burtynsky's Anthropocene, and Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap (mea culpa). Last but not least, the most depressing documentary of the year is Bert Marcus’s The American Meme: a useful (?) reminder that Debord was right. In the age of social media, the Spectacle has subjugated everything and everybody. We're living in the end of times.