I got to speak with Kim A. Snyder recently while was in Los Angeles to discuss her documentary “Newtown.” The documentary looks at the aftermath of the largest mass shooting of school children in American history which took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. The school was located in Newtown, Connecticut, and we watch as the adults who tragically lost their children attempt to move on with their lives. But since this tragedy, these adults look to be stuck in a moment they may never get past. What they are left with is profound grief and memories which will now be forever tinged with sadness.
“Newtown” is certainly one of the most emotionally devastating documentaries to come out in some time, but it is not without hope. Not once is the killer’s name mentioned or his face shown as Snyder’s real interest is in the townspeople who struggle to move on despite all they have lost. As painful as their stories are, these are the stories which need to be heard as the media often tends to focus on the shooter more than anything else.
Snyder is an award-winning filmmaker and producer, and for a time she was a contributor to Variety Magazine. She made her directorial debut in 2000 with “I Remember Me” which chronicled her struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). She also directed “Welcome to Shelbyville” which documented the intersection between race and religion in America’s Heartland. Her other works include the short films “Alone No Love,” “One Bridge to the Next” and “Crossing Midnight.”
While talking with Snyder, she explained why the shooter’s name was never mentioned in “Newtown,” why the term “gun control” was never used, of how Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter” proved to be a major influence on this documentary, and of how she managed to find hope in a story filled with infinite grief.
Check out the interview above, and be sure to catch “Newtown” when it opens in Los Angeles on October 14. Also, be sure to visit the documentary’s website at www.newtownfilm.com.
This movie has some of the funniest scenes of any I have seen in 2016, but there’s one slight problem; it was not intended to be a comedy. “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” is the latest political screed from Dinesh D’Souza which has him, along with co-director Bruce Schooley, trying to tie the Democrats’ racist past with Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President. In short, he attempts to show how the principles of the Democratic Party have never changed, and instead succeeds in making an even worse documentary (if you want to call this a documentary) than “America: Imagine the World Without Her.”
Now while Hillary’s name and face are featured prominently in this film’s poster, D’Souza doesn’t really bother with her until the last half hour. Instead, he gives us a bunch of re-enactments (and this movie is overflowing with them) which chronicle his criminal conviction, the time he spent in a halfway house, the America of the 1800’s and the 1900’s, and of Hillary while she was in college. Perhaps a better name for this would have been “Dinesh’s America” as we are looking at history through his point of view, and his POV combines a selective sprinkling of facts with an overabundance of deluded paranoia.
D’Souza re-enacts his time in a halfway house as a way to continue his ridiculous claim of being made a political martyr. He also portrays himself as a white collar criminal surrounded by vicious street criminals whose actions make his crime pale in comparison. Was this really the kind of halfway house he was sentenced to? Maybe, but he presents the inmates in such a stereotypical way that it’s hard to take much of what he shows us seriously. Plus, there’s a sequence where he befriends a fellow inmate who tells him about an insurance scam he and his friends pulled off. The re-enactment of this scam is so ridiculously directed and poorly acted that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud to where I thought I might get kicked out of the theater.
We later see D’Souza visiting the Democratic Headquarters, and when no one is looking he sneaks into an off-limits room which contains the Democrats version of Pandora’s Box. This allows him to uncover the party’s racist past which had them defending slavery instead of trying to abolish it. Seeing D’Souza, a Republican, infiltrating this “secret” room in the Democratic Headquarters brings to mind another alternate name for this movie: “50 Shades of Watergate.”
It is no secret that the Democratic Party of the 1800’s was much more KKK friendly and were never quick to pass the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery. This was even shown to be the case in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” where Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner never hid the fact that the Republicans were the real heroes when it came to ending this barbaric practice. This gives “Hillary’s America” some weight as this is a part of history worth paying attention to as the Democratic Party of today is much different than the one of the past. But it doesn’t take long for D’Souza to shoot himself in the foot as he bombards us with historical re-enactments so one-sided to where they quickly become boring and cruelly exploitive.
These historical re-enactments are further complicated by D’Souza treating Democrats like Andrew Jackson as one-dimensional villains in a bad 80’s action movie or a supervillain from a James Bond film, albeit ones completely lacking in charisma. It doesn’t matter which era is being re-enacted, he treats every Democrat as being drunk with power or as a vampire on a day pass. D’Souza even includes an especially ludicrous scene where Woodrow Wilson is watching D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House when a KKK member on a ghost horse comes galloping out of the movie screen. Wilson is made to look like he is transfixed by this sudden emergence, but it’s really just a bizarre fantasy.
In trying to show how the Democratic Party has not changed from its sordid past, D’Souza completely fails to prove this without a shadow of a doubt. He doesn’t so much cherry pick facts as whitewashes and manipulates them to form a thesis which defies all reasonable logic. Anyone with half a brain can see that the Democratic and Republican parties of today are so radically different from what they once were. D’Souza even tries to convince us the big switch between the two parties in terms of their views on civil rights was a flat out lie, and he presents his evidence of this in a way which requires the use of a microscope to fully discover what he is talking about.
When D’Souza finally gets around to dealing with Hillary Clinton, he portrays her as a self-centered and snobby bitch interested in her own ambitions more than anything else. In an article, Alex Shephard described D’Souza’s portrayal of a teenage Hillary as being like Reese Witherspoon’s character of Tracy Flick from “Election” if Tracy “liked to murder small animals,” and that is spot on. D’Souza shows her laughing at one of President Richard Nixon’s speeches on television as if it were a bad thing. But the most jaw-dropping moment comes when D’Souza flat out blames Hillary for her husband Bill’s numerous infidelities. This doesn’t really speak much of Hillary as it does of D’Souza’s criticisms of feminism.
D’Souza presents himself throughout “Hillary’s America” as a truth teller no one should dare question, but he rarely backs up his arguments with much in the way of convincing evidence. In fact, he even dredges up the Benghazi attack which has been beyond thoroughly investigated, Hillary’s emails which just about everyone is sick of hearing about, and he even includes a scene from those completely debunked videos from the Center for Medical Progress. Bringing these subjects up only weakens an already deeply flawed thesis to where it feels like D’Souza is just grasping for anything which might, and I strongly stress the word might, work in his favor. Oh yeah, he also throws in Saul Alinsky for good measure, but Alinsky comes across as a caricature more than anything else.
While there are many unintentionally hilarious scenes to be found here, there are others which are simply infuriating. D’Souza portrays Margaret Sanger, the mother of Planned Parenthood, as an emotionless sociopath. Granted, there is evidence she was a proponent of eugenics, but showing her as wanting to exterminate all black people is a flat out lie. His portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson as openly racist to where he only agrees to civil rights legislation just to quell his political opponents feels deeply insulting. And in portraying America of the past, D’Souza piles on scenes of slaves being whipped and tortured which soon feel cruelly exploitive of a national tragedy.
It’s tempting to call D’Souza stupid after watching “Hillary’s America,” but that may not be altogether fair. As a director, however, he makes one stupid mistake after another as he shamelessly manipulates the audience’s emotions while bashing their heads in with information based more on his distorted worldview than reality. He employs an overly dramatic music score by Stephen Limbaugh which becomes ridiculously bombastic in no time at all. And he concludes the movie with renditions of patriotic songs to show his undying love for America. I do not doubt his fervent patriotism of the United States, but it feels truly annoying that he needs to constantly remind us of this.
It doesn’t bother me that D’Souza has made an anti-Democrat movie as no political party is beyond reproach. What bothers me is how much he believes in what he is telling us as his view of history is more revisionist than it is accurate. Watching him in “Hillary’s America” reminded me of Bill Pullman’s dialogue in “Lost Highway:”
“I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”
In D’Souza’s mind, Republicans have been and still are the heroes of justice and racial equality, but if Lincoln saw the state of the party today, there’s no doubt he would be crying a river over it and not just because Donald Trump (who is barely mentioned in this movie) is their presidential nominee.
Now, this review might be greeted by various internet trolls who claim I am deeply biased or a “libertard” among other things. I’m not going to go into who I am voting for this November here. Instead, I want to leave you with a couple of things to think about. Does it make more sense to base your views on a political party on what it was like when it began or how they treat the American people in the present day? If D’Souza loves being a citizen of America so much, why did he willfully break the law? Did he even realize before committing his crime that it would cost him a right which American citizens should cherish, the right to vote? Say what you will and believe what you want, but nothing will change the fact that “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” is one of the worst documentaries ever made.