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Courtesy of AFP

January 31, 2017

Documentary Explores Whether All Governments Lie

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All Governments Lie, created by a team of independent journalists and award- winning filmmakers, plays as an intro track to Donald Trump’s presidency.  The film, first released in September of last year, offers no break from Trump’s ubiquity with a cynical look forward and an expansive look back on American history’s most notable players and under-investigated moments. All Governments Lie functions in the current political atmosphere in three ways: 1) It channels Trump’s dissent with bureaucracy and the anti-establishment sentiment that resonated with his voters and propelled him to the oval office, 2) It carries the fear, frustration and horror half the country felt and continues to feel over Trump’s election and 3) It develops the media, which Trump calls the opposition party, with as much character and determination as these journalists have caricatured the President. Trump, always having a way with words, might argue that the movie’s basis aligns with his views and that the next four years symbolize an interruption of governmental norms: the faux transparency, the personal e-mail, the misleading and the lies. Trump, an impressively confident man, might even say yes, all governments lie, and that he stands apart.  In that regard, the movie is incredibly hopeful. But even as a very moderate political observer, the film breaks apart—smashes—these rose-colored glasses.

The documentary looks into American journalist I.F. Stone’s statement “all governments lie” and tries to assemble a series of truths. This results in a succession of shameful American political anecdotes. From the immigration crisis to Vietnam and the War in Iraq, the film tries to steal away your patriotic pride. The film needs a warning label that reads: All Governments Lie should not be shown to children or the weak of heart.  It questions and invalidates the stories we pass through generations of heroic altruism, fierce independence, superpower protection of justice and unparalleled opportunities for betterment.  Do not watch with popcorn.  Instead, snack on Tums and herbal tea.  All Governments Lie may cause disgust and heartache.  The documentary skips—ad nauseum—from one political wrongdoing to another.  Meanwhile, I crumble in my seat from outrage to horror to shame to sadness to immovable lethargy.

The documentary holds the drama of Snowden, the star of which the film references, and the pertinence of a nightly news show.  What makes All Governments Lie so nauseating—or compelling—is its frill-less presentation.  While being a compilation of governmental horrors, it is also just a collection of footage: interviews in messy offices, judicial hearings, Congressional meetings and news clippings.  Every contribution serves as an immediate end, like a prosecutor’s case.  Despite the shifting focus from one issue to the next, the film remains clear in it’s un-glorified mission.  The film exposes a political environment in which everything means the exact opposite as simply as possible.  It refuses all theatrical effects.  As a proficient iMovie user, I feel that I could have helped in putting the movie together.  An initial booming bass sound introduces the film’s power and weight, but, quickly, even the music fades away so that information unambiguously takes center stage.

Even the film’s basic organization unfolds naturally. Like a reporter’s unscripted thinking or an investigator’s research, the information comes out in pieces. Focus springs from one story to the next until it rebounds to the initial investigation. This haphazard style speaks again to the film’s central purpose. Behind the political characters the film uncovers as actors, I.F. Stone’s narrative and legacy motivate the film. A successful investigative journalist—like Stone—comes back to a story, again and again. All Governments Lie works in the same way. This stylistic choice ironically adds back a glimmer of hope to the altogether dismal compilation. The camera flips from one reporter to another, one issue to the next, and despite each investigator’s disheartening revelations, they have company in their defiant work. The film collects a series of government offenses, but it also gathers a community of seemingly unsupported whistle-blowing journalists. Just as dishonest politicians maintain faithful protectants, these independent journalists share a common cause. I.F. Stone established a tradition of scrutiny through his research and reporting that counters the continuously fraudulent practices in governments and corporations. Donald Trump may believe that the media targets him in particular. All Governments Lies shows that neither Donald Trump nor his journalistic “opponents” function alone.

As a disguised optimist, I would like to take this alignment between a corrupt strain in government and the rebellious strand of journalists a step further. “Mainstream media” concerns itself with talking points approved by the Pentagon, popular opinions in politics and culture and easily arguable Republican or Democratic ideals.  Journalists like I.T. Stone make up the minority.  While the media at large turns away from the gritty messiness of immigration issues and refugee crises in exchange for a celebrity arrest, a smaller group turns over and around and back to these issues with the fervor and passion the larger media holds only for marketable, sexy, savory news.  This select group of journalists matches up with an equally exclusive group of deceptive politicians. For every independent reporter, a dishonorable system or broken moral compass awaits its uncovering. But these journalists are not the mainstream and neither are the people or issues they investigate. All people lie. It seems to be one of those unavoidable human flaws that even the best of us share. So, sure, all governments lie, but not every individual aspires to perpetuate deceit through unethical practices. I.T. Stone would disagree with me, but can really all of government be a lie? People lie, yes, but can we scrutinize an entire system and call it all phony?  As the credits roll across the screen and I complete my transition to full catatonic disillusionment, I answer with very, very little conviction: I hope not.

Julia Curley is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jmc628@cornell.edu. 

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