It’s no exaggeration to say that Steve Bannon quickly became one of the most reviled figures in Donald Trump’s inner circle during the 2016 election and the early days of Trump’s presidency. Cagey and clever, Bannon never seemed to make a move that wasn’t completely calculated (and, in most cases, self-serving). So you have to wonder what his motivation was to allow filmmaker Alison Klayman and her cameras into his life to film The Brink, an intimate documentary that follows Bannon from 2017 through the historic 2018 midterm elections.
According to producer Marie Therese Guirgis, who worked with and for Bannon in the early 2000s and maintained contact with him afterward, it could be simply that Bannon “loves to provoke and relishes in [his] super-villain image.” If that’s the case, well, then, mission accomplished. Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall observations of Bannon’s machinations are not only provoking but — assuming you don’t agree with him politically — infuriating. He needles; he pokes; he sows discontent and discord. All with glee.
The fact that Bannon comes across as surprisingly disarming, self-deprecating (at least publicly), and even charismatic doesn’t help. He says what people want to hear, from European magnates embracing nationalism as a way of maintaining their own power base to MAGA hat-wearing Americans who believe Bannon and his policies can save them from changes they’re just not ready for.
Per Guirgis, one of her conditions for making the film was total creative control for the filmmakers. So presumably Bannon wasn’t able to veto any of the more button-pushing moments Klayman skillfully captures, even if he wanted to. But, still, it begs the question: If all of this is what Bannon allowed to happen while the cameras were on him, what on earth would he have said no to? — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nell Minow: Director Allison Klayman wisely lets Steve Bannon tell his own story, shaped by his response to opportunities for uniting alt-right “nationalist” factions in Europe as the political force he assembled in the US is unraveling. As he barks at subordinates, juggling two cell phones, wearing two shirts, and, over and over again, posing for pictures between two grinning supporters, we see the enthusiasm of his crowds is undiminished, but the size of them is. It is an essential document of this moment in politics and history, based on the intimacy of remarkable access and edited with enormous skill.
Marina Antunes It’s one thing to see and hear about Steve Bannon’s message of hate in the media. Be it covered by the right or the left, we’re always aware of the fact that he’s putting on a show for the masses, he’s selling his ideas and he does so well. What’s chilling about Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall documentary The Brink is that we see behind the curtain at who Bannon is when he’s not performing and as it turns out, he’s even scarier than anyone could have imagined. He’s calculated and completely believes what he preaches and is fully convinced that the world is going to hell and he and his ideas are the only way to save it. He’s a man with conviction and what’s more, the gravitas and charisma to sell those ideas and that’s what’s truly frightening.
Sheila Roberts Filmmaker Alison Klayman’s new documentary, “The Brink,” takes a raw, unvarnished look at former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, the rise of white nationalism, and Bannon’s radical mission to galvanize a worldwide movement of global revolution. Eschewing any semblance of a personal life, the workaholic Bannon is an astute wielder of raw political power and the intellectual force leading the populist movement. He candidly admits that hate is energizing for a lot of people while dismissing criticism he engages in antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia to further his agenda. With impressive access to her subject and a fly-on-the-wall approach, Klayman allows viewers to draw their own conclusions. Her film is especially timely in light of the recent New Zealand terror attack.
Loren King What is the attraction to and fascination with Steve Bannon? The right-wing Trump impresario, Breitbart publisher and former White House “chief strategist” is the subject of two new documentaries from accomplished filmmakers: Errol Morris’s American Dharma and Alison Klayman’s The Brink. I loved Klayman’s first feature, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, her bold, verité portrait of Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei. She again delivers a powerful expose here, allowing Bannon free reign to promote his divisive populist propaganda, admire himself in old yearbook photos, speak before adoring Republican groups and campaign for Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore even after Moore was credibly accused of sexual misconduct. It’s a no-holds-barred look at Bannon if you care to look. I watched the film the day after a white supremacist killed 49 people in New Zealand. To see the pompous Bannon extolling his brand of “economic nationalism” with other global xenophobes and pushing his far right ideology with his entourage of smug young men made my skin crawl. The one consolation for giving him a platform, besides as a know-your-enemy tool, is that Bannon’s opportunism and shallowness is handily exposed. Having been cut loose by even the far-right, his extremist rhetoric and unscrupulous strategies show his desperation for relevance.
Kristen Page Kirby Watching The Brink isn’t fun. Or comfortable. Or enjoyable. But it’s important. This documentary about Stephen Bannon goes beyond clickbait headlines and into the terrifying – for most – reality. Klayman’s restraint of her own point of view is admirable and effective; rather than inject her own biases she simply represents Bannon and his world as it is. Will it change minds? Probably not. What it does is provide a remarkably clear insight into our current remarkable political reality.
MaryAnn Johanson Well. Alison Klayman’s portrait of Steve Bannon is absolutely horrifying. One wonders what he imagined was going to happen when he gave the filmmaker such intimate access to his awfulness. Does he truly believe his own bullshit, that — as he insists here — that he’s not racist, not anti-Semitic, not a raging white-nationalist? Or does he just not *care* if he is revealed as such? Perhaps the most terrifying thing here is the confidence with which he parades his bigotry, as if he knows that his awful take on the world is going to win. This is a movie I’m going to need some time to digest — we all will, I suspect, for this is a dispatch from the present directed at the future, from the middle of a story that has not yet ended. What would a portrait of Goebbels have looked like from the perspective of 1938? And would things have turned out differently if we’d had that? My head is exploding… Read full review.
Jennifer Merin In The Brink, verite filmmaker Alison Klayman again demonstrates the suberb observational skills she displayed in documenting artist/activist Ai Wei Wei‘s struggles against the repressive Chinese government that would silence his protests and shun his art. Here, Klayman profiles another political influencer, one who is using his freedom of speech to spew hate-filled racist doctrines around the globe. The Brink is Klayman’s scathingly revelatory take on Stephen K. Bannon and his current status as a wild card ultra-right political strategist whose ideas and projections put our civilization on the very brink of disaster. With extraordinary access, Klayman follows the evidently ever-smug Bannon on his campaign for international influence–meeting with his billionaire sponsors and European neo-nationalist leaders, and delivering hate-mongering invocations to massive crowds of dissatisfied working class people who cheer him on as the agent of change who will improve their lives. Beware! The Brink is horrifying. It’s hard to watch, even harder to imagine Bannon’s world vision as a reality. The film is a must see, and it cannot be taken lightly — especially in the wake of the recent racist killings in New Zealand.
Elizabeth WhittemoreAllison Klayman’s mostly cinema-verite approach to exposing Steve Bannon further proves to the progressives that white supremacy is something that cannot be ignored. If this week’s massacre in NZ has taught us anything, it’s that alt-right dog-whistles aren’t just a passing fad. They might as well be a not-so-secret handshake that is giving this ugly movement a voice outside of people like Trump, Miller, and Bannon. Klayman’s access to Bannon as he transitions from The White House to the world stage is perhaps more frightening than when he was the slightly quieter mouthpiece of the current administration. But based on the doc, Bannon will either dig his own grave or continue to be the buddy, wannabe frat boy that happily spreads ignorance and dangerous rhetoric. It will clearly depend on which side of the “both sides” argument you’re on. The Brink solidifies the ideology that “no press is bad press” and if you repeat lies enough, apparently people will believe they’re true. I mean, isn’t that how we got here in the first place?
Sandie Angulo Chen: I didn’t want to watch this week’s MOTW, The Brink. The idea of spending 95 minutes following right-wing media mogul and former Trump chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon didn’t appeal to me, but the documentary is utterly riveting. I have to give props to filmmaker Allison Klayman for humanizing a man whose politics and ideologies I find dangerous and racist. It’s fascinating to see Bannon admit a video he made before the midterm elections is pro-Trump propaganda and later see a Republican voter call it “not propaganda, just facts.” It’s disturbing to witness Bannon meeting with a cabal of nationalist extremist European politicians, even as he denounces “globalism.” Worse, Bannon (who somehow comes off as more charming than President Trump) seems to truly believe he’s doing “the Lord’s work,” even as he speaks to all-white audiences and pretends George Soros conspiracy theories aren’t coded forms of anti-Semitism. This is not an “easy” documentary to watch, but it is a fascinating reminder of what some influential forces want for the future of our country.
Cate Marquis Steve Bannon, the alt-right political strategist who played a prominent role in Trumps’ campaign and briefly served in the White House, has been the subject of two recent documentaries. One, American Dharma, is by Errol Morris, the documentarian behind Fog of War and others. The second is Alison Klayman’s The Brink. Unlike Morris, Klayman takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, providing no commentary as the film unfolds, and letting Steve Bannon speak for himself as we follow him around from Fall 2017 to past the Fall 2018 mid-term elections. It proves a powerful approach. Bannon maintains a relaxed, reasonable, even charming demeanor, infuriatingly spinning his far-right positions as something rational or ordinary. But his reasonable tone contrasts sharply with what he actually is doing. While he talks like any other political strategist about crafting a winning message and talking points, he jets around the globe, meeting with alt-right Republicans and far-right politicians in Europe. In Europe, he takes aim at both immigration and bringing down the EU. One has to wonder who is funding all this lavish spending, as we see Bannon’s posh DC home, watch him fly around on private planes and stay in 5-star hotels. Meanwhile, Bannon speaks to groups of working class people who feel left behind economically, selling his alt-right “economic nationalism” message. As the mid-term elections approach, Bannon sees the Republicans are in trouble but is unable to turn things around. Afterwards, Bannon just flies off to Europe to continue his work. Watching The Brink is an eerie, chilling experience but an eye-opening one that anyone trying to understand our present political/cultural moment should take in.
Title: The Brink
Directors: Alison Klayman
Release Date: March 29, 2019
Running Time: 91 minutes
Distribution Company: Magnolia Pictures
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin