‘Facts are classified but emotions are not’
The Final Year’s director says he avoided policy in favour of drama — such as Trump’s win
A lot can happen in a year. After all, just 12 months ago America was still technically under the leadership of Barack Obama in what many would now argue were halcyon days.
To director Greg Barker, it “feels like 10,000 years” since Donald Trump took office and gave the filmmaker the closing scenes for his latest documentary The Final Year — an exclusive look at key members of Obama’s administration as they shape policy for the last time — opening Friday in Toronto at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.
“I didn’t want to make a policy film. That’s kind of boring,” said Barker of following such notable Democrats as former secretary of state John Kerry, speech writer Ben Rhodes and UN ambassador Samantha Power in the White House. “I realized some facts are classified but emotions are not, so if I made the film about the emotions and the human drama at play, it would be more cinematic.”
The behind-the-curtain peek at the inner workings of government would be compelling at any point in history, but The Final Yearstands out given Obama’s shocking successor and the new administration’s defiant reversal in direction.
“Putting aside the tragedy for the country and the world — what was happening for the film was exactly what you want,” said Barker of filming Trump’s election win.
Indeed, the future of a Trump presidency casts an ominous shadow upon every breakthrough moment of the movie.
“It will certainly have a resonance because people are going to counterpose what they see on the screen with the narrative of today,” Barker said. “I do think audiences have a very powerful reaction to this from previous screenings that we’ve had . . . My hope is that people get insight into how our government actually operates, and are also inspired to maybe get involved in whatever way meaningful to them.”
While Barker does stop short of describing The Final Year as a “protest film,” he does admit that the context of humanizing hardworking policymakers reminds audiences that there are still serious, dedicated civil servants behind the spectacle that is Donald Trump.
“You can certainly say this is what normal looks like; this is how diplomacy should operate — and frankly has operated — across administrations since the Second World War,” Barker said.
“I’ve made some very dark films,” said Barker, whose previous films feature such subjects as Rwandan genocide and the AIDS epidemic.
“I tend to look at ways we can live through our darkest moments and find some path of redemption.”