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‘The Final Year’ Documentary Crew Only Had One Rule While Filming Obama’s White House

Director Greg Barker had nearly unlimited access to the administration.

Director Greg Barker

There was really only one rule filmmaker Greg Barker had to follow while shadowing the Obama administration’s senior officials for “The Final Year”: no classified material.

That was actually pretty easy to follow, considering neither he nor his crew had the clearance to be in the room when classified information was being discussed.

“The rules were actually pretty straightforward,” Barker said at a Q&A following a screening of his film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series. “The rules were you can’t show classified material, but it’s not really a problem because they’re not allowed to — none of us have security clearance, so they can’t really bring it into a room…it was never really an issue. And that was basically it, because they knew it had to feel authentic.”

For “The Final Year,” Barker followed Secretary of State John Kerry, Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and Deputy National Security advisor/senior staffer Ben Rhodes beginning in September 2015 as they embarked on their final year of work for President Obama (who also appears frequently throughout the film). And yes — most of the people involved, including Kerry, Power, Rhodes, and Obama himself, have seen the film.

In fact, Power and Rhodes were present when “The Final Year” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, and Barker said the crowd’s reaction was very emotional to watch.

“They have not spoken much publicly, so seeing the reaction when they came out afterwards was just incredibly emotional, very emotional,” he said. “So I think it’s very gratifying for them to see it with a public audience in particular.”

The film would play very differently if Hillary Clinton had been elected president instead of Donald Trump, but the fact that much of the work the team completes during the final year of their tenure would wind up undone a year later adds another layer to the film. There’s what audiences see play out in the film, and there’s what they know will play out a year later.

“I’ve never made a film that plays like this plays. It seems to me like there’s two narratives going on. There’s the narrative of the film, and then every week there’s a new scene that resonates in a different way for me,” he says, adding, “It speaks to the moment that we’re living in.”

Watch clips from the Q&A below:

The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.

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