Like a pernicious pink-and-orange-hued opioid that has its hooks on America, news of Donald Trump is the drug of choice in 2016. Every morning, day or night, we can get our fix, whether it’s to be repulsed, amused or, for a too vocal minority, galvanized to spew like-minded hatred. The insidiousness of the 24-hour news cycle is that folks are easily cleansed and need more the next day. So far, there appears to be no national hangover. Stuff doesn’t accumulate. And Trump marches on.
Soon, his grade-school, goose-stepping band will disassemble and documentary filmmakers will have their say about this circus but until then, mainstream media has mainly failed us (despite the record number of newspapers coming out against him).
But not everyone is laying low. For those of you who want some insight into Trump, good places to turn are FRONTLINE for The Choice and CNN’s All Business: The Essential Donald Trump. I’d also recommend Margaret Brown’s New York Times Op-Doc about the conservatives who Trump has left behind: ‘Never Trump.’ But Then What?.
Best of all are a couple of vérité series from filmmaker AJ Schnack, who has spent his share of time on campaign trails. He gives us the context that set the path we are on with NomiNation for Vanity Fair‘s website and Primaries, a six-part series that aired on Fusion that you can now see on iTunes.
In what he’s calling his “October surprise,” Michael Moore surprised most of us by dropping an unannounced documentary, Michael Moore in TrumpLand, in two theaters, one in New York City and one in Los Angeles. I just walked out of the film so I still have it pinballing in my head, but I will say that it’s funny, earnest and pretty much one man’s attempt to not let this historical moment not get away from us. You’ll be able to catch Moore’s film online soon — details are to be determined.
What else has the documentary community done? Trump’s race-baiting during the Central Park jogger case comes up in 13TH, which can be seen on Netflix now. Most long-form nonfiction filmmakers have yet to have their say.
In the past, there have been a few doc filmmakers who took a look at Trump. As in 13TH, his attempt to have ultimately-exonerated children executed is featured in The Central Park Five. (And Trump still maintains that those freed men must have had something to do with it, despite unequivocal DNA evidence and a jail-house confession of the actual culprit.)
It’s been said before that no one saw his evil reign over our senses coming so he was hiding in a blind spot. And, indeed, Trump’s appearances in documentaries has tended to be more amusing or light fare. He appears in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, in Behind the Dress and gets a “thanks” from in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Particularly interesting is to watch Harry Benson: Shoot First, an excellent film about the legendary photographer, which comes out in December. In it, Trump gets several sequences and is referred to as an “entrepreneur.” I imagine it’s a little bit like watching a documentary about the turn-of-the-century Austrian art scene wherein a young aspiring painter named Adolf appears as a talking head. I joke. Sort of.
But back to reality. I imagine most of us aren’t interested in his appearances in such stellar nonfiction work as How Playboy Changed the World, Playboy Video Centerfold: Playmate 2000 Bernaola Twins and Anyone for Pennis?. (Yes, those are real.) There have actually been a few legit feature documentaries that set their sights on Trump, but, alas, without leaving a mark. The Kings of Kallstadt, which you can stream on Netflix, is a light look at the small German town where Trump’s grandfather and ketchup mogul Henry John Heinz’s father were spawned. There is also You’ve Been Trumped, about Trump’s war with Scottish landowners over his golf resort there. There is going to be a You’ve Been Trumped Too premiering later this month.
And then there is Trump: What’s the Deal, a very dated, ham-fisted piece of filmmaking that targeted Trump as a sleazy real estate tycoon in the 1980s and that, apparently, was never released because of litigation with its subject. The film, however, can now be seen in all its glory here for free.
For a truly deep, penetrating look into Trump, we are going to have to wait. I’m happy to report that Schnack is working on a long-form feature but it won’t be coming out before the election or the inauguration, for that matter, so this nightmare will be over. Something to look forward to.
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