Five Political Docs to Watch on Election Night
By Pat Mullen
Today’s election might be too close to call! If you voted in the advance polls and are sick to death of this brutally negative and divisive campaign, tonight just might be too much to endure. To help escape the nerves of election night fever, here are five uplifting, entertaining, and enlightening docs from the campaign trail.
Why Women Run
A lot has been said about Elizabeth May being the lone woman in the leadership race and rightly so. (Remember that “manel” of a TVA debate?) Voters who want to see strong women in the hunt might want to revisit Meredith Ralton’s 1998 doc Why Women Run. This NFB doc chronicles the tight and frequently divisive race between Liberal candidate Mary Clancy and NDP party leader Alexa McDonough in Halifax. Even the pre-Trump NFB blurb describes the race as “nasty”—make your own jokes!
If more strong women on the campaign trail are your game, then there’s no excuse for not having seen Rachel Lear’s inspiring doc Knock Down the House. This rousing film follows the grassroots efforts of four women—including some ambitious idealist named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—as they try to shake up the political establishment from its complacent slumber. The film captures the energy and aspirations of a younger generation, mobilized into action with a collective desire to hold elected representatives to higher standards. It’s thrilling to watch a film that makes change seem possible. Stream Knock Down the House on Netflix.
A much, much different portrait from the campaign trail comes in Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Weiner. This tragicomic portrait follows New York Democratic Senator Anthony Weiner during his 2013 bid to become mayor of NYC. The campaign hits a disastrous bump when Weiner is caught sending pictures of his, er, wiener, remaining defiant to his defeat in the face of its inevitability. Like Knock Down the House, it’s an outstanding example of the magic that happens when documentary filmmakers are with the right person at the perfect moment.
This three-part Donald Brittain doc chronicles the years of two of Canada’s toughest political animals, Pierre Elliot Trudeau and René Lévesque. Part 1, available to stream below from the NFB, examines the early years of the two men leading up to Canada’s centennial in 1967, while Part 2 spans 1970-77 as Trudeau wins two more elections and the October Crisis sparks a tumultuous period of Canadian history. Part 3 traces 1976-86 as the Quebec rocks the nation and Trudeau championed the patriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1982.
One of the seminal cinema verité docs, Robert Drew’s Primary is one of the best politics of all time. This influential classic offers an intimate snapshot of John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail in 1960 as the freedom of direct cinema brings the camera closer to a politician in action that audiences had seen before. Besides capturing the spirit of a moment, much in the way Lears does with Knock Down the House, the film is a must see for anyone interested in the formative years of documentary growing beyond the Griersonian style. Edited by verité master D.A. Pennebaker and shot by Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles, Primary is a cornerstone of documentary history. And at only an hour long, it’s a perfect stream before the final tally!