Election-centered Documentaries & Other Upcoming Fare

(I anticipate that most of the discussion of these works will be about their politics, not about their artistic elements. But if a moderator feels otherwise, of course, feel free to move the thread.)

Last night was the premiere of a new documentary by Alex Gibney (“Going Clear” etc) on HBO, Agents of Chaos. It’s about Russian interference in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

(Part 2 airs in a few minutes. The documentary is also available to Amazon Prime members.)

Part 1 was the fastest two hours I’ve spent in front of a screen in quite a while. (Gibney is good at what he does.) It begins with about 70 minutes on trolling, particularly that accomplished by the IRA in St. Petersburg. It then moves on to hacking, focusing on the activities of the GRU “Fancy Bear” initiative.

Part 2 looks as though it will focus on the Trump Campaign and its connections with the influence operations.

Part 1 contained some amazing remarks by Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny, among other trenchant works. This guy never wastes a single word on filler; for example, from his Twitter feed today:

From a review of the documentary at CNN:


Most horrifying, maybe: the many smug take-downs of Hillary Clinton by anchors and interviewers on CNN, MSNBC, and the networks. One wants to reach through the screen and just shake some common sense into them…

Another new documentary that heavily features election-centered concerns: Hacking Your Mind, a four-part series, funded by the NSF and currently being shown on PBS.

The series originated with Oregon Public Broadcasting and is more easily available than the HBO Alex Gibney documentary (you can see long excerpts on YouTube, for example).*

The host, Jacob Ward, has been working on the series since at least 2017, and it’s chock full of well-regarded research to back up its claims about how we can be manipulated by others. Ward published some of what shows up in the documentary in Medium:

Of the three episodes shown so far, the second (“Weapons of Influence”) and third (“Us vs. Them”) are most clearly related to the upcoming US election and the influence campaigns designed to persuade people to vote one way or another–or not at all.

Episode 3 has an eye-opening recreation of an experiment showing that humans are very prone to being manipulated by bad information—aka “fake news”—while dogs simply ignore bad information. Somehow this is not at all surprising.
*The official preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hs0lEP6r2Ig

I just watched the nine episodes of Tottenham Hotspur Football documentary on Amazon Prime.

It was interesting, but became really cool to watch as coronavirus erupted world wide. The players represented various nationalities and their reactions differed. Some players immediately wore masks. The trainer urged hand washing. Fist and elbow bumps became the norm, but they did it jokingly. Many thought the shutdown would last a week or two. When the NBA canceled their season, things became real for the footballers.

Watch episodes eight and nine (the last two) for the corona experience.

There is probably a very interesting documentary to be made using footage like that, as well as hours of other world-wide reaction to the virus. Such a documentary could say something about human nature (as well as cultural influences on how people react).

Closer to the topic, I’d also like to know how elections around the world differ in the pandemic era as compared with the way things were being done before it hit.

In other election-doco news: CNN has a new one about civil rights icon John Lewis, premiering tomorrow night:

I’m guessing the documentary will carry obvious implications for viewers, in relation to their choices in coming weeks (for example, whether to work with organizations that encourage voting).

Part of the “other upcoming fare” I was thinking about when making this thread was the Showtime offering “The Comey Rule,” a four-hour recreation of James Comey’s revelations about his time as Trump’s FBI director—until Trump fired him, of course.

Part 1 aired last night; part 2 will be shown tonight. I haven’t seen it and critical reviews so far seem to be only midding-enthusiastic.

But it’s another chance for potential voters to consider the events of recent years as an influence on their voting decision. I’d think some Trump fans might tune in out of curiosity about Brendan Gleeson’s portrayal of their hero, and thus learn things that Fox News has carefully kept from them.

Showtime’s page on the miniseries: