Discover Tuesdays Presents The Brink

Discover Tuesdays Presents The Brink

Ryan Powell from the Picturehouse Education team takes a look at ALison Klayman's documentary The Brink. Playing on Tue 23 July.

After leaving his position as Chief Strategist for the Trump administration, Steve Bannon has been on a mission to consolidate Trump’s Power in the US and to form a united political platform for Right Wing parties in Europe with the ominous name The Movement. Through a familiar observational format Alison Klayman’s film gives a first-hand insight into Bannon’s machinations as well and the way that right wing populist parties are seeking to organise across Europe.

Key to the film is Bannon’s focus on using the mainstream media as a way of building his movement and reaching as large an audience as possible. Klayman is at pains in this film to show how he uses the media as a means to disseminate his ideas and gain political power and we are shown how Bannon and other right wing figures in Europe are ecstatic with the amount of attention they are given in the press. We see him taking every opportunity he can to appear on TV and radio, to give talks and newspaper interviews. To journalists he is always courteous and it is clear that he sees them as colleagues and accomplices to his propaganda mission. He doesn’t mind if the news outlet is hostile to his message, he wants to push mainstream politics to the right and wants all the attention he can get. In his appearances he is affable and collegial whilst constantly pushing a far right, racist ideology, made palatable through obfuscating terms like “economic nationalism” and dog whistle terminology. Klayman is clearly not a supporter of Bannon or the politics he represents and so her knowledge of the role that media attention plays in his strategy presents her with the major ethical question of whether she should be making the film at all. Is she in fact furthering his political aims? It’s a question that looms large throughout the film and one worthy of careful consideration as it feeds into wider debates with as to how to combat the rise of the far right. Namely should we give far right figures a political platform?

The reason for a left/liberal documentarian making an observational film on Bannon would have been the assumption that, over time his mask would slip. But this never really happens. Bannon is a pro and his chummy persona never falters in any major way. When he is accused of being knowingly racist he uses a “who me?” routine to gas light those making the accusations, it’s infuriating and effective. In order to get behind the façade Klayman is forced to break with the observational aesthetic and bring in materials such as news footage and images of newspaper stories. This is done effectively as a means of situating Bannon in a wider social context and allows us to see the real world expressions of his ideology such as the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting in October of 2018.

After an interview with The Guardian for a short film they made on Bannon’s campaigning in Europe he tells a journalist how the film will bring “about 20% of your guys over to us”. 20% is hopefully an optimistic figure but The Brink is commendable in acknowledging the ethical questions around treating the views of the far right as politically acceptable and giving people like Bannon the means of reaching a broad audience.

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