Doc Stories Report: Obama’s team in The Final Year

My wife and I attended the Doc Stories festival Saturday afternoon at the Vogue. The movie in question was an inspiring but also deeply sad documentary about Obama’s foreign policy team, The Final Year. Director Greg Barker introduced the film, promising us that “For the next 90 minutes, Donald Trump will not be president.”

If only that was true.

This cinema verite documentary follows two members of the White House foreign policy team, UN Ambassador Samantha Power and Strategic Communications Advisor Ben Rhodes, over the course of 2016. They fly a lot, talk a lot, and try (with some success) to deal with Boko Haram, Iran, Russia, and the horrible mess of Syria. To a lesser extent, the film also follows Secretary of State John Kerry, and even spends some time with Barak Obama. But as you watch the film, you know, even if the subjects don’t, that Donald Trump would be elected president and ruin everything.

I give the film an A-.

The Final Year will be released in the Bay Area on January 26.

After the screening, Barker, Power and Rhodes came on stage for a Q&A. Here are some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity.

  • Barker: Every film is some kind of journey. Eventually I realized that this was a band movie – it’s about a bunch of people who worked together for years around a charismatic lead singer.
  • Rhodes: Americans forget how much this presidency was transformative. In the future, when people look at this administration, Obama will be seen as someone ahead of his time. Either that or we’ll all be dead.
  • Power: People forget there were taboos we had to slay. We normalized Cuba; you weren’t supposed to do that. We talked to Iran.
  • Rhodes on agreeing to work with the filmmakers: I was spending all this time preparing for press conferences. Those are ephemeral. But a film would be a record. I wanted people to see what we’re trying to do here.
  • Power on Burma: It’s been one the most painful things for me to watch. That dynamic was there almost the entire time we were in the office; twice it flared up in our administration. We had to scramble before it got out of hand. What haunts me is to see it begin again. And I don’t see anything happening to stop it.

The Doc Story festival continues through today (Sunday).