“The Brink”: Steve Bannon documentary director Alison Klayman says Trump strategist must be held responsible

The director of a new documentary on Steve Bannon says the former Trump White House adviser “has to be held responsible” for putting forward a variety of racist ideologies. Director Alison Klayman profiled Bannon in her film, “The Brink,” which was an official selection for the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and is being released in theaters this month.  

Speaking with Anne-Marie Green and Vlad Duthiers on “CBSN AM” Thursday, Klayman was asked point-blank if she believes Bannon, whom she followed for more than a year, is racist. 

“So by my definition of racist or anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, it really does have to come down again to your actions,” she said. “What are the policies that you’re putting forward for the people that you’re actively working with, or just even willing to tolerate? To me if that includes things like exclusionary policies, racist policies, anti-Semitic dog-whistles, things that have led to violence in Pittsburgh or New Zealand, by my definition I think he has to be held responsible for all of those ideologies.” 

Filmmaker Alison Klayman tailed Steve Bannon for more than a year for her new documentary, “The Brink.”

Magnolia Pictures

“The Brink” follows Bannon through the 2018 U.S. midterm elections and looks ahead to the Europe parliamentary elections in May 2019. There is no commentary in the film and there is no formal interview with Bannon. Rather, Klayman uses the vérité documentary technique, following Bannon around with her crew as he goes about his day, holding meetings, traveling to other countries and carrying out his political machinations. 

“It was really about going behind the curtain on not just the far-right but really, frankly, the mainstream of the Republican Party, and seeing not just what they say but what they do: how they operate, who is supporting them, and where that movement is going to be headed,” Klayman said, adding that she shot 200 hours of footage over 13 months.  

For the director, Bannon proved to be a surprising subject, one who held more complexity than the one widely portrayed by the U.S. media, which includes a “Saturday Night Live” impersonation of Bannon as the Grim Reaper

“When I first met him, he kind of struck me as avuncular, and he was actually made a lot of self-deprecating jokes. He was very human, which you shouldn’t be surprised about,” Klayman said. “What I found, though, about what his actions were, you know, kind of didn’t really jive with the way that he was being portrayed. He is able to really do a lot of manipulation of the media more than actually being a great political strategist with policies behind his ideas.”  

The former Breitbart.com chairman had been appointed as chief executive of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in August 2016, and helped guide the real-estate mogul and reality TV star to an upset victory. Bannon then spent eight months in the White House in 2017 as one of President Trump’s chief strategists. Bannon left the Trump administration less than a week after the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Before entering politics, Bannon had served as a U.S. naval officer, and worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and a film and television producer. 

Today, Bannon spends his time advising various populist conservative movements around the world, which has included backing a gladiator academy in Italy. 

Klayman called her film “a fair portrayal,” of Bannon and said, “There’s no manipulation of the meaning of his words, or the scenes and how they went down.” 

“He talks a really good game, he can say a lot of emotionally evocative things,” Klayman said, but added, “When he’s getting behind closed doors with far-right party leaders from Europe and around the world, or when he’s in meetings with billionaires, they’re not talking about how to bring jobs back to people. They’re worrying about birth rates. They’re talking about how to keep immigrants and migrants out of Europe and America.”

“I’m on a mission to convert as many people as possible,” Bannon is heard saying in the official trailer for the film. “You are part of a worldwide movement.” 

“Every nationalist party that looks viable, I am trying to help,” he says to the camera at another point. 

“He’s not as fringe a figure as some people would like to believe,” Klayman said. “He is definitely the mainstream of the Republican Party.” 

CBS News’ David Morgan reviewed the film last week, calling it, “engrossing.” 

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