In an October full of many political surprises, it appears we have yet another, with Michael Moore dropping a surprise documentary last night entitled Michael Moore In Trumpland. Ostensibly a concert film, it shows him in the deeply red yet ironically named Clinton County, Ohio, analysing the Trump phenomenon and telling people to vote for Clinton. A deeply committed left-wing activist, he had previously pledged never to vote for her as she supported the Iraq war.
However, this documentary sees him adamantly supporting the democrat choice. As he implores, anything is better than "human Molotov cocktail" Trump. Inspired by the shock result of "Brexit" he realised that he needed to finish the film quickly, filming it last week, completing editing yesterday morning, and premiering it at the New York IFC the same evening:
But will this film affect the election result? Surely a 73 minute film isn't enough to influence the decisions of millions of people, especially those who are predisposed against the films creator for being too left wing in the first place? Yet, its Beyoncé-like arrival in a climate where Trump and Clinton have smashed social media and trending records means that — regardless of quality — it is already an 'event' film. Arriving in October in the most divisive election of all time, its very presence will make it seen. Additionally, there have been precedents. Let's take a look at five documentaries that have made real changes:
1. The Thin Blue Line
Use innovative reconstruction methods to look at the wrongful conviction of Randall Dale Adams in Texas, The Thin Blue Line is generally considered to be one of the best and most influential non-fiction films ever made. It was so popular that it actually prompted an independent review of the case eventually leading to Dale Adams' release. This is a precedent that has been followed in true crime stories as diverse as The Jinx, Making of A Murderer, and Paradise Lost.
2. Bowling For Columbine
If Michael Moore knows anything about films changing the world, he needs to look no further than his own Bowling For Columbine. A screed against American gun culture, and a look at the rise of mass shootings, it also indicted Kmart's policy of easily available ammunition for sale. In a shock tactic, he takes two victims of the Columbine shooting to a Kmart with bullets still lodged inside them and demands a refund. Surprisingly for the Flint filmmaker, they actually changed their policy and stopped selling ammunition altogether. He was ecstatic:
"We've won. That was more than we asked for."
Triumph Of The Will
Leni Riefenstahl's groundbreaking depiction of the Nuremberg Rally is propaganda at its clearest, fully representing the Nazi troops, their funnily-moustachioed leader and his supporters, in all their rabid glory. As well-made as it is evil, and unlike any documentary made before, it was highly influential in making the Nazi party look like something one would actually want to join. If you have time to watch it, take a look at the little guy. He remind you of anyone?
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Super Size Me
For Super Size Me, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock basically put his own life on the line. Pledging to eat McDonalds and only McDonalds for thirty consecutive days, and to always supersize his order when asked, the experimental diet caused him to gain 24 pounds, increase his body mass by 13%, lose his sex drive, make him depressed and dangerously increase his cholesterol level. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and did much to change people's perceptions of how fast food contributes directly to obesity. Additionally, as a result of the film Maccy D's quietly stopped its Supersize policy.
An Inconvenient Truth
As well as ruining my childhood — I had to watch it in Religious Studies, Media, and Geography classes — An Inconvenient Truth woke the world up to the horrors of climate change. Despite its many flaws, such as too many shots of Al Gore taking planes to climate change conferences, it was an incendiary look at what will happen to our planet if we carry on emitting greenhouses gases at the rate we do.
By putting climate change into the public consciousness, it put more weight on governments to actually do something about it. One can also probably credit it with the rise of filmed lectures as a piece of entertainment, and in extension the wildly popular TED talks, meaning more widespread information for everyone.
As these examples show, documentaries actually do have the capacity to effect change, and if enough people are enamoured with the idea of the film and go to see it, it could be the catalyst for changing their opinion. If the film fails to convince anyone against Trump, it will go someway to promoting more enthusiasm for Clinton, who remains the second most unpopular candidate in electoral history. She may be leading at the polls, but as Brexit shows, you can't trust them completely. This election could be going right down to the wire, so a populist voice such as Moore weighing in on the debate might just tip the favour in her edge. It's worth remembering that Bush won by only 537 votes in Florida.