Crucial Viewing - Rachel Lears' KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE (New Documentary)

It's not really democracy, is it, if only people with access to millions of dollars can realistically stand for office? Well, Rachel Lears' exhilarating documentary KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE gives us a look at what democracy might actually look like, and it's inspiring. In case we've been asleep, an epigraph informs us that in 2018, "record numbers of women, people of color and political outsiders set out to transform Congress." All around the country, progressives Democrats went up against establishment Dems—the "bosses" and their machines. Lears follows four of these women in the year leading up to the primaries. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is working as a waitress and bar-back in the Bronx when we meet her. Her sense of fun and humor, her integrity and seriousness of purpose, are evident straightaway. Cori Bush, a nurse, hails from the Missouri district where the police shot Michael Brown to death. Giving up an executive-level job, Amy Vilela from Las Vegas was motivated by a personal tragedy to fight our nation's deadly for-profit healthcare system. Coal-miner's daughter Paula Jean Swearingen, from West Virginia, is fighting the coal barons who have brought death and environmental destruction to her hometown. I should probably put my film critic hat aside and just admit that I'm an all-out partisan of this movement. Still, solidarity wouldn't compel me to recommend this film if I didn't also think it an excellent and honest documentary, albeit one in a very familiar vérité style. Lears has an observant, affectionate eye for the telling gestures and expressions, the faces and landscapes that flavor and bond these very diverse American communities. She structures the film to ride a conventional, suspenseful narrative arc, designed to be accessible for wide Netflix consumption. It's a great true story: at its best, it can restore your faith in humanity. KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE is a moving and important, if sobering, piece of work. It's going to take a lot more of us just like these four brave, ordinary-but-extraordinary women for democracy to come to the USA. Lears, Producer Sarah Olson, and Executive Producer Stephanie Soechtig in person. (2019, 86 min, Digital Projection) SP
The Doc10 Film Festival continues Friday-Sunday, April 12-14. Check next week’s list for more reviews.

Paula Froehle