From “The Brink” to “Knock Down the House,” documentary filmmakers clearly have populism on the mind. This year’s Sundance Film Festival was dominated by portrayals of these transformative movements, ranging from the far right to the far left, that have a chokehold on global politics. The latest addition to the canon is Petra Costa’s “The Edge of Democracy,” and the director stays true to form by applying a personal touch to a political crisis.
The film, which screened on opening night at Sundance, chronicles the rise and fall of democracy in Brazil from 1985 to the present day. “The Edge of Democracy” has been lauded for its intimate take on a global epidemic. By limiting her focus to the Brazilian crisis and the way it has affected her own life, Costa keeps everything on a human scale, albeit one with obvious worldwide implications.
The official synopsis from Netflix reads: “As a child in 1985, filmmaker Petra Costa saw democracy take root in Brazil following years of authoritarian rule under a military dictatorship. Gaining unprecedented access to working-party leaders Lula de Silva and his protégée Dilma Rousseff, Costa traces the downfall of both democratic leaders following corruption scandals that resulted in the impeachment of Rousseff and the imprisonment of de Silva. Merging the personal and the political, Costa delves to the heart of her country’s unfolding identity crisis, examining widespread institutional corruption while connecting her own family’s complex political and industrial past to Brazil’s current crisis.”
Her family’s role in these tumultuous events makes Costa a character in her own documentary, providing the voiceover as she reflects on her life. The daughter of two radical activists, she watches as corruption and partisan media gradually dissolve the system of government for which her parents fought.
As politically-minded citizens watch the news with equal parts horror and curiosity, “The Edge of Democracy” offers a combination of explanations and warning signs.
The film is being released by Netflix on June 19, along with a theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles. Check out IndieWire’s exclusive trailer for “The Edge of Democracy” below.