Our New President

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Our New President
"Pozdorovkin isn't trying to present new information here and there is very little context provided, but it is not so much what is being shown as the sheer weight of material." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

In an era when 'fake news' has become a favourite phrase around the world - most notably as a get-out clause for presidents allergic to facts - Maxim Pozdorovkin's documentary is a timely addition to the debate. Creating a collage of found footage, including news propaganda and social media clips, he explores the representation of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in Russia during the presidential campaign. The result is an often funny but sometimes chilling consideration of the insidious nature of media spin.

"The time of unbiased journalism is over," declares Dimitry Kiselyov to his staff at Russia Today (now rebranded simply as RT) - a network funded by the Russian government that has been expanding its 'soft power' in English language countries in recent years and which recently attracted attention in the UK when former SNP leader Alex Salmond announced he would host a show on the channel. Kiselyov hosts a nightly show, full of portent, which heavily backed Trump, while portraying Clinton as unstable and ill, at best, and cursed by a mummy at worst.

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This last little gem provides a framing device for the film, which shows, in a trippy set of sequences, Clinton in Russia in 1997 when she visited the Siberian Ice Maiden - a mummy from 5BC who is said to have put the evil eye on the presidential hopeful. While it underscores the way in which we all-too-easily accept certain ideas as fact, the film's structure as a whole is somewhat shapeless, aiming to immerse us rather than build a strong through line. Carved up into sections that seem to have been arbitrarily inserted more to emulate the Youtube nature of the material rather than to serve any useful purpose to the viewer, it nevertheless gathers momentum.

Pozdorovkin isn't trying to present new information here and there is very little context provided, but it is not so much what is being shown as the sheer weight of material. From elderly Russians composing odes to Trump to clips of Clinton apparently laughing maniacally, seeing them en masse may be amusing but it also gives a sense of the drip-drip nature of many of the basic ideas behind this sort of propaganda. This may be a Russia-centric look at the way memes and ideas quickly percolate through society but it also nudges us to consider the ways in which we consume and disseminate news to our own networks.

The film is not without its frustrations, such as the very short amount of screentime given to the 'troll factory' in St Petersburg tasked with pumping out propaganda day and night. But Pozdorovkin is determined to make us feel the media barrage, showing how difficult it can be to sort the wheat from the chaff when we're consuming 'opinion' under the cloak of 'news'.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2018
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Collage film showing Russian propaganda surrounding the US presidential election of Donald Trump.

Director: Maxim Pozdorovkin

Writer: Maxim Pozdorovkin

Year: 2017

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: US, Russia

Festivals:

Sundance 2018

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