This documentary, showing at the London Film Festival, follows Obama’s foreign policy team in the final year of his presidency. For any young people reading, “foreign policy” is something that presidents used to have.
Filmmaker Greg Barker is granted impressive West Wing access, following Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Power and senior adviser Ben Rhodes. The intimate nature of the doc humanises these individuals we’re so used to reading about in the news, showing them with their families in a manner far more comfortable than many of their Republican counterparts.
Despite being blatantly one-sided, failing to mention Obama’s unprecedented (or is it unpresidented?) use of drone strikes or even Russian interference in the election, the film successfully presents the administration as one determined to see foreign policy conducted with compassion and decency. These are admirable people who respect the privilege and responsibilities of office, and work tirelessly to see that diplomacy is done.
Conversely, Donald Trump looms in the background like Pennywise the Dancing Clown, lending the film a cruel sense of dramatic irony. In the post-screening Q&A, Power compared it to a horror film, where the audience know but the characters are oblivious to the axe murderer lurking in the darkness. We see the team’s shocked reactions when Trump wins the election (spoiler alert), which renders Rhodes, who writes Obama’s speeches, literally speechless.
Deputy Head of the festival Tricia Tuttle added that the movie is impossible to watch now without a sense of loss if you share the values of Obama and his team, as Trump is so determined to undo their hard work. And it is hard work; we see 72-year-old Kerry flying all over the world to help deal with global crises like climate change (I hope he offsets his carbon), while Power speaks truth to Putin.
Barker shows in The Final Year a way of conducting diplomacy that oughtn’t be consigned to history. Next I’d like him to make a documentary about Trump’s West Wing and the decline of diplomacy. He could call it The Final Years.