True/False Film Fest: 'Our New President'
The next film from Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer director Maxim Pozdorovkin treats us to Russian propaganda about the United States.
Maxim Pozdorovkin follows up his 2013 film, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, documenting the incarceration by the Russian feminist punk collective, with this collection of news coverage of the 2016 election and its aftermath, told through the lens of Russian state TV. Pozdorovkin referred to Our New President as a collection of propaganda, a film with almost no true statements at any point.
Indeed, for the next 89 minutes you are treated to how Russia sees -- or conveys -- the US, from Hillary running, to Trump winning, to Putin and friends cracking wise about how all of this was their doing, with a wink and a mischievous smile. For an American audience the footage cut together in this order is often funny, with a true sense of comedic timing, and statements so ludicrous they are laughable, but that humor quickly gives way to discomfort as we remember its chilling implications.
Our New President first shows First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1997 visiting Princess Ukok, a 2,500 year old Siberian mummy thought to be a shaman. Hillary is greeted by a welcoming committee who take her to the Russian landmark, in footage with remaining VHS lines running through them. We see the entourage circling the tomb and gazing down at the remains. Russia's particular brand of tabloidy trash newsmagazine coverage implies that the First Lady's visit has somehow cursed her. If you were to follow this logic to its chilling conclusion, then everything that happened to her leading up to the 2016 election was just what she had coming for "disturbing the bones", if you will. But as you pull apart the layers here, repeated conspiracy theory coverage about Hillary's "fatal illnesses", speculation about "all the people she's murdered", and interspersed YouTube footage of Russian citizens sticking pins into Hillary voodoo dolls, it builds a narrative that Russia was gunning for Hillary's loss the whole time.
America's new president doesn't make an appearance until his election victory (almost as if he is beside the point), which appears when we see a YouTube video of a child praising "Brother Trump" and congratulating him on a job well done. The boy peels back his sleeve to reveal "Trump" written on his bicep, at which point his mother enters the frame and demands to know why he's shouting like a moron.
We are then treated to clips of citizens singing praise for Trump (literally singing) into their webcams. Various clips -- from the program, Russia Today in English, and the state-owned television station Russia 1 in Russian -- show Russian citizens falling all over themselves with joy, now that there will be peace thanks to the election of Trump. One of the most damning pieces of footage is when Trump and Putin first meet after he's become President. A Russian reporter scrambles to make sure the shot of them sitting together shaking hands is framed perfectly because this is, "The Culmination" as he calls it -- as if a "friendship" between the US and Russia is a direct result of hacking the US presidential election in 2016. Another particularly odd moment comes in a shot of someone referring to Russia "taking" the US. Easily. As with Crimea.
(screenshot from trailer)
Our New President, which premiered at Sundance, doesn't provide informational screens that give deeper context. You begin to realize that this sensational footage is real archival footage from real Russian TV -- these are very real misinformation campaigns that have been going on for decades. However, at one point the film does start to show footage and give some backstory about NTV, the last free media service before Putin consolidated everything into Russia 1. There was a poll of NTV viewers asking how trustworthy Putin is, and as you might imagine, when the people are allowed to give their honest opinion about the state on a platform that isn't run by the state, the number of people who voted "mistrust" was greater than 2 to 1.
The chilling last words on NTV before being taken over by the state, delivered by a terrified reporter who appears to be at his wit's end, states that Russians should be insulted at how their government is treating their voice. Our New President paints a harrowing picture of what it must be like as a citizen dictated by a vain billionaire who has taken away almost all journalistic outlets besides RT and YouTube, which he has filled with trolls. That's beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar to Americans, now, too, isn't it?