Taking Down Trump: Documentarians Profile Courageous ‘Local Voices’

Top documentary filmmakers like Marshall Curry and Amy Berg capture concerns of Americans in ads that air in their swing state communities.
Local Voices: Documentarians Make Anti Donald Trump Ads in Swing States
Veteran Garry Porter in Marshall Curry's "Local Voices" Anti-Trump Ad

The idea behind the Local Voices ad campaign is to capture the concerns that everyday Americans have about presidential hopeful Donald Trump in unscripted, personal commentaries that later air as one-minute ads in the same swing state communities where they were filmed. The key is to find voices who belong to community leaders who aren’t normal Hillary Clinton supporters, may they be conservatives or generally apolitical figures.

READ MORE about Local Voices: How Filmmakers Are Making a Difference in Swing States

In swing states where the voters have been confronted with constant barrage of political ads, the other key ingredient is authenticity, so they are not dismissed as just another manufactured political message.

To accomplish this, founder Lee Hirsch (“Bully”) turned to fellow documentary filmmakers and recruited some of the top filmmakers working in nonfiction, including Amir Bar-Lev (“Happy Valley, “The Tillman Story”), Amy Berg (“West of Memphis”), Marshall Curry (“Street Fight,” “Point and Shoot”), Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (“Jesus Camp”), Liz Garbus (“What Happened, Miss Simone?”) and Kristi Jacobson (“Solitary”).

Here are four new ads hitting key swing counties along with commentary from the filmmakers who made them.

Garry Porter

Director: Marshall Curry (“Street Fight,” “Point and Shoot”)

Garry has devoted his entire career to the U.S. Military, including active duty in both the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Army and he has some thoughts on the candidates for Commander in Chief.

Alamance County, North Carolina. TV Premiere: 10/14

Curry wrote IndieWire the following about making this ad:

One of the things I really like about Garry’s spot is that for the first 30 seconds the viewer doesn’t even know it’s a political ad. Gary simply establishes his credibility with the audience, talking about his conservative military values and the importance of passing those on to the younger generation. Then, when he mentions Trump at 33 seconds in, we are already primed to listen to him. I think one of the challenges of political ads is that humans are very tribal, and if we sense that the ad is going to criticize “our” candidate, we will tune it out. It’s like the way that we can criticize members of our own family but we become defensive when outsiders do it.

I have a friend who is a professor in NC, and she introduced me to the two people — Garry and Meg — who I featured in my ads. I spoke with each of them on the phone before heading to NC to get a sense of who they were, why they felt the way they felt, and how their stories might catch the attention of a viewer who has been barraged with ads for the past year. In New York, we aren’t really exposed to ads, because neither campaign wants to waste money in a solidly blue state. But in North Carolina every other ad on TV is political, so people become numb, and it’s really hard to find ways of catching their attention.

The shooting experience was a lot like making a documentary — asking wide open questions and then zeroing in on the stuff that caught my ear, and trying to improvise some sort of visual “story” that might go along with what they were saying. For Garry, I thought his focus on military values — sacrifice, cool-headed strength — were really compelling, and when he mentioned the importance of passing those on to the younger generation, I had the idea of shooting him working on a project with a member of that generation.

We shot each piece in a day — a couple hours to set up lights, about 90 minutes for each interview, and then five or six hours of shooting the “story.” I have worked with the cinematographer, Alan Jacobson, on my films “Racing Dreams” and “Point and Shoot,” so he knows my documentary sensibilities well. He knows the kinds of shots and moments that I like, and the ones I avoid because I think they feel false. In my docs if there is ever a trade-off between authentic emotion and slick style, I’ll go with emotion — and that’s how I wanted to shoot these spots too. There are a lot of corny tropes in political ads, and I wanted to avoid those and make it feel more like a mini-documentary — like an honest conversation with a neighbor — than another Madison Ave ad.

What’s so great about Local Voices profiles is that they say to an undecided Republican-leaning voter, “I’m a lot like you. I share your values. And I think that Hillary is a better choice than Trump.”

And I think that moment of surprise, when you realize that this conservative, Republican, lifelong military vet is endorsing Hillary, is powerful. It’s almost a punchline in the piece. I don’t know that ads are going to flip someone’s deeply felt opinion, but I wanted Garry’s ad to say to conservative military-values viewers that if they are uncomfortable with Donald Trump, it’s ok for them to support Hillary. They they won’t be the only one with those values supporting her, and they won’t be betraying their tribe by supporting her.

READ MORE:  Tim Heidecker Sings About Downing Donald Trump’s Plane in ‘Trump’s Pilot’ — Listen

Enid Lobel

Director: Amy Berg

Enid is a lifelong Republican who’s worried about the world she is leaving to her grandchildren.

Collegeville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. TV Premiere: 10/1

Amy Berg wrote IndieWire the following about making this ad:

We had to work quick and fine tune our message. It was about being a woman and standing up for the rights we have earned. We were filming the piece the day after the news of Donald’s pussy grab broke and Enid Lobel, a conservative grandmother, who has always voted by her husbands side as a Republican, was outraged at Trump the man and the metaphor. The idea that this man might set women back decades outraged her. While we filmed Enid, her husband waited quietly in the garage. Since the piece has aired, her family and community stood behind Enid (and Hillary) in this most upsetting time historically. And Mr. Lobel has told Enid that he was proud of her for stepping up.

READ MORE: Samantha Bee Theorizes that Donald Trump Can’t Read in Amazing ‘Full Frontal’ Segment — Watch 

Gladys Roann

Director: Gabriel London (“The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest”)

Gladys is a former school nurse. She is frightened listening to Donald Trump. “People feel like it’s okay to be mean to other folks, ‘people who don’t look like me,’ said the Roann. “Unless he tones down his rhetoric, it’s going to get worse.”

Jefferson Country, Florida. TV Premiere: 10/11

London wrote IndieWire the following about making this ad:

This election has been so much about intrinsic biases and demographics, as in which block of voters is voting for whom and which demographic (women, Latino’s, the disabled) is being made fun of by Donald Trump. But when I met Gladys Watson, I found somebody who represented something more universal: a community leader, revered by people across the board in her Florida Panhandle community. People respected her for her generosity of spirit and civic engagement, after years serving as the District School Nurse. The Local Voices model is not to find people who are overly political, but Gladys represented the best of political engagement in a way that demanded that her story be told.

So we went to the Florida/Georgia border — her property literally spans it — and told her story as a proud Hillary voter in Jefferson County, Florida. She also had an amazing American glory 1964 Chevrolet Impala, which for a car lover like me made telling the story that much easier. A lot of people talk down to Florida, and there are always so many people willing to talk trash about a capital city, in general, be it Washington DC or Tallahassee, but we found in Gladys a woman who embodied the roots of civic engagement: neighbor to neighbor community – the heart of the Local Voices model.

Helen Kollar-McArthur

Director: Amir Bar-Lev

Helen is a 31-year-old activist and agriculture educator in central Pennsylvania. She’s a proud Bernie Sanders supporter who also thinks Hillary Clinton is “tough as nails.”

Centre County, Pennsylvania. TV premiere: 10/19

Local Voices is not one of these extremely well-funded super PACs and saves a vast majority of its funds for buying ad time on local stations. It relies on nonfiction filmmakers ability to shoot vérité and work with little money — each spot is filmed in one day and costs less than $10,000, including post-production. Final Frame donates post-production finishing services, while filmmakers volunteer their time.

“To save money none of our crew slept in Central Pennsylvania,” said Bar-Lev about making this commercial. “We all drove in and out in one day some from as far as Connecticut. Then everything was shipped out to a top commercial post house in California who mobilized their entire staff to turn this around in 72 hours.”

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