At the Telluride Film Festival, one familiar face was nowhere to be found: Errol Morris, a member of Telluride’s board, whose documentaries tend to screen at the Colorado festival like clockwork. Morris’ latest project will instead premiere on Wednesday at the Venice International Film Festival, where it’s creating a bit of a stir. In “American Dharma,” the filmmaker confronts Steve Bannon, and the former Trump senior advisor is expected to attend the festival for the first public screening.
The news of Bannon’s arrival in Venice came on the heels of a controversy surrounding his scheduled appearance at the New Yorker Festival, which dropped a public conversation with Bannon after other participants threatened to pull out. However, Variety reports that Bannon arrived at Venice on his own, and was not a part of the festival’s official delegation. It remains unclear if he’ll attend the Toronto or New York film festivals, where “American Dharma” screens next. However, reps at both TIFF and NYFF said that Bannon was not invited. “There is no indication that he plans to attend,” a rep for TIFF said. A NYFF staffer said the festival wasn’t aware of Bannon’s plans either.
However, it should come as no surprise that the former Breitbart executive would seize an opportunity to return to the film world. After getting involved with Hollywood productions in the ’90s (and making some money on “Seinfeld” residuals as a producer), Bannon spent several years running indie distributor Wellspring Media, where he signed off on the release of major prestige titles including “The Brown Bunny” and “Tarnation.” Later, he turned to right-wing propaganda filmmaking, with directing credits that included “In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in World and Deed,” as well as the pro-Sarah Palin effort “The Undefeated.” This fall, he’s planning a documentary supportive of the president called “Trump @ War,” to be released ahead of the midterms.
But first, he’ll get his closeup in Morris’ movie, which is currently seeking distribution. The film reportedly begins at a Telluride film festival panel years ago, where Morris participated in a discussion where Bannon was in attendance. (A publicist for the film said Morris chose not to take the film to Telluride. A rep for the first festival declined to comment.)
The rest of “American Dharma” finds Morris and Bannon in intense conversation about his motivations. In an interview with Frank Bruni in the New York Times last month, Morris referred to a famous viral meme when describing Bannon’s disinterest in liberal perspectives about him, and the characterization of his worldview as white supremacy. “I don’t think he had any fears about that,” Morris said. “He’s a honey badger. Honey badgers don’t care.”
Morris also offered a paradoxical assessment of his subject. “I’m appalled by Bannon,” he told Bruni, “but I like him.”