Knock Down the House

 

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American politics of recent times viewed from an unexpected angle.

 
Knock Down the House

  

If Brexit dominates politics in this country, in America everything seems to focus on Trump. But that is not the case in this Netflix documentary made by Rachel Lears. It’s a film about the mid-term primary elections of 2018 in the USA but its concerns are not party political. Instead this is a report centred on such groups as Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats whose aim is to find new candidates, ones who may lack political experience but who, if successful, would truly be authentic representatives of the people (Woody Guthrie’s song ‘This Land Is Our Land’ is heard behind the end credits).

 

In the hands of Rachel Lears, these movements are represented here by four hopefuls seen on the campaign trail, all of whom are women. Very much in central position is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a working waitress of Puerto Rican extraction living in New York. There she challenges a long established incumbent, Joe Crowley, who actually lives elsewhere but nominally has long represented the peoples of Queen’s and the Bronx. That he, like Alexandria, should be a Democrat (and an ardent Trump opponent at that) underlines the extent to which Knock Down the House is concerned not with parties but with the need for political representatives who truly live up to that designation. This links with the other candidates featured here: Amy Vilela is a single mother living in Nevada with special reasons to feel strongly about healthcare, Cori Bush is a pastor and a woman of colour from Missouri who as a nurse saw and was duly influenced by the notorious violence seen in Ferguson in 2014 and Paula Jean Swearingen is a coalminer’s daughter in West Virginia, an environmental activist concerned with uncontrolled industry acting in ways that spread cancer.

 

The fact that Knock Down the House offers engaging protagonists who express their hostility to the political establishment by proclaiming once again the rallying cry “Power to the People” will ensure that this piece has audience appeal. However, truth to tell, it is not a well-organised film as it jumps from place to place, from month to month (having started out in 2018 it promptly looks back at events a year or more earlier) and from candidate to candidate. If Ocasio-Cortez gets the most screen time, footage of her is abruptly interrupted to show the other three campaigners. All four comment tellingly, but the film really needs an outside narrator whose words could do something to shape the material better. Even then, we would still have a work which, having set up the announcement that Joe Crowley has unexpectedly agreed to debate with his challenger on TV, chooses to insert at this point a tragic section about the way in which the death of Amy Vilela’s daughter had politicised her. It’s strong stuff in itself despite the fact that Ryan Blotnick’s music score over-milks it for emotion, but there is no reason to place it at this spot and only after that to follow up the promised debate in which Crowley and Ocasio-Cortez come face to face. That is all too characteristic of a work closer in character to a television programme than to a film. However, it would be wrong not to recognise the fact that the weaknesses of Knock Down the House are unlikely to prevent it from being warmly received by those who so endorse what is being said that the way in which it is said is relatively unimportant to them.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearingen, Amy Vilela, Riley Roberts, Gabriel Ocasio-Cortez, Darryl Gray, Saikat Chakrabarti, Corbin Trent, Joe Crowley.

 

Dir Rachel Lears, Pro Rachel Lears, Sarah Olson and Robin Blotnick, Ph Rachel Lears, Ed Robin Blotnick, Music Ryan Blotnick.

 

Artemis Rising Productions/Atlas Films/Jubilee Films-Netflix.
86 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 1 May 2019. Cert. PG.