Hunting in Packs
(Canada, 80 min)
Dir: Chloe Sosa-Sims
Personality can be everything in a documentary, and Chloe Sosa-Sims has found three fascinating females for her study of how women experience being elected to and holding political office. Jess Phillips, an outspoken feminist, comes to the British Parliament as a member of the Labour Party (Birmingham-Yardley) via her involvement in violence against women issues. Pramila Jayapal is a Democratic member of American Congress (Washington’s 7th congressional district), outspoken in the party’s progressive caucus, and now its chair. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner represents Calgary Centre-North in Canada.
Organizing the action under various rubrics, including “Square Peg in a Round Hole” and “I Won’t Back Down,” Sosa-Sims follows them as they run for re-election, engage with their communities and attempt to promote their favourite legislation. As women, they have plenty in common. All three of them were inspired to run for office horrified by the mediocrity of those that preceded them in their ridings and district. They knew they could do better and work harder, and this documentary proves they are doing just that.
They’ve had similar experiences with misogyny on the ground and especially online. Each one, as her political career unfolds, is becoming more and more acutely aware that the political system is broken, that it reinforces barriers to meaningful legislation and is determined to prop up the old-boys’ system.
In all three cases, they have come into open conflict with their party’s traditional base: Phillips constantly complains about Labour’s male-dominated cabinets and shadow cabinets and Jayapal is working against middle-of-the-road Democrats’ opposition to universal health care. In one news clip, President Biden sounds wholly mealymouthed. And when Rempel Garner attempts fundamental Conservative change via a manifesto going all-in with oil, she is rebuffed by her then leader, Andrew Scheer, and has a bona fide meltdown.
Phillips gleefully hurls F-bombs and has thrown them at members of her own party; she’s a bit too open, some say. But her determination is fierce and that’s how she managed to get passed her Domestic Abuse Bill. Jayapal, the first South Asian woman elected to Congress, is the least edgy of the three subjects, smoothly navigating her way through the red-baiting and racist rhetoric of her opponents.
Rempel Garner is a revelation, another gloriously foul-mouthed woman who, yes, supports Alberta’s oil industry unconditionally, steadfastly representing her community, but who is also pro-choice and understands, as she puts it bluntly, “The political system is shit.” She is smart, funny, honest. A truly lovable villain, not to be underestimated as a political force.
Feminists who have argued that the world would be better off if more women were elected to office have learned the hard way, with Margaret Thatcher and Marine Le Pen as examples that possessing the XX chromosome doesn’t guarantee progressive politics. Sosa-Sims knows this. She wisely avoids suggesting a woman is only one thing by presenting three complex characters.
See how they fare inside the system.
Hunting in Packs premieres at Hot Docs on May 2.