After writing a Doc Soup about the documentary coverage of Donald Trump and this year’s freak show of an election, it was politely brought to my attention (The exact words were: “Doc filmmakers have been extremely active, donating their time and kicking some ass!”) that I missed a major doc offensive spearheaded by Lee Hirsch, the director of Bully, who in 2008 cofounded a super PAC called Local Voices.
Super PACs are by nature partisan, and Local Voices’ opposition to Donald Trump might just be creating a new model for future elections to come, channeling what feature documentary filmmakers do best: create impactful storytelling. This year, an all-star cast of directors (Marshall Curry, Heidi Ewing, Liz Garbus, Rachel Grady, Amir Bar-Lev, Amy Berg, Roger Ross Williams, among others) have fanned out across the nation to shoot 1-minute ads in support of Hillary Clinton.
The ads are tight, to the point, and powerful portraits of people who are voting for Clinton. One of my favorites is of Garry, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in North Carolina who sounds smart as a whip and looks like he could break you in half. We see him doing carpentry with who I assume is his son. Garry tells us, “For all of my life, I have been a Republican. Having looked at both candidates, I will be voting for Hillary Clinton.”
The other spots are equally affecting; upstanding American citizens, many of whom identify as conservative and/or Republican, who are shown in their homes, farms and garages, talking about how they are going to vote for Clinton. No bells or whistles but plenty of honest talk and earnest looking into the camera.
Local Voices has raised over a million dollars and has spent about that much, having aired 19 of the spots so far. Hirsch tells me they are processing more donations as I write and putting out more spots in the coming days.
Each film costs about $7,000 and is shot in a day with the filmmakers volunteering their time. Most of the money goes to purchasing ad time in local swing state affiliates.
“Each spot is designed to affect a specific geographic area and not be generic,” Hirsch says. “We went into communities and found an influencer or leader. The ad buy is targeted to that community for the reason that that they are more affordable but really because there is a dynamic there where you are seeing someone from your street.”
Local Voices is a small and nimble. When Hirsch gleaned that Clinton wasn’t reaching millenials, he added four ads specifically targeting younger voters.
This anti-Trump front got started this summer when Hirsch sent out an email to filmmakers asking them to put their talent to work. He was impressed by the response. Part of their appeal, Hirsch says, is that “We are outsiders. I don’t want to be a political operative. I want it to be about finding these stories and amplifying them in a way that is authentic.” Because they are a super PAC, they have to remain separate from the Clinton campaign. “There’s a firewall between them and us,” Hirsch says. “We hope they like it, but who knows?”
The downside to being a freewheeling gaggle of filmmakers is that it’s hard to get the machine running every election cycle. “We have other projects and films we are working on,” Hirsch says. “We are not out there all year fundraising. We are all going to go back to making the films that we make.”
In addition to Local Voices, from within the Hillary camp, there’s a powerful ad, directed by Kief Davidson (The Ivory Game), which is about Captain Khan, who was killed in service and whose parents addressed the Democratic National Convention. It’s pretty powerful. And it’s been viewed more than a million times.
And Garbus has also made a gut-punching spot for Humanity for Hillary, in which she intercuts shots of Trump on the bus boasting about assaulting women with actual women retelling their experiences with abuse. It’s devastating and far more brazen than the Local Voices spots, ending with strong women saying, “It’s not OK.” The ad got 1 million hits in the first 12 hours and is now close to 4 million views.