Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Trump's Trade Adviser Is a Terrible Filmmaker

Scott Meslow reports:
So who is [Peter] Navarro,[Trump's trade advisor], and what can we actually expect from him? The simplest, most digestible, and most revealing answer comes in an unlikely form: a low-budget and nominally nonpartisan documentary called Death By China, written, directed and produced by Navarro himself. As a film critic, I found it an appalling cinematic experience. But it’s a brutally effective, if unsubtle, 79 minutes of propaganda -- which might explain why Trump liked it so much.

Navarro adapted Death By China from his 2011 book of the same name, which argues that China — through a combination of unfair trade practices and low-quality, globally exported products — is becoming "the planet’s most efficient assassin." The film was technically released in theaters (three, to be exact), and grossed a little under $40,000. From there, Navarro took it on the festival circuit, holding screenings and Q&As in cities like Chicago, Cincinnati and Birmingham. The critics who bothered to review it were largely underwhelmed: The Hollywood Reporter deemed it "astonishingly-heavy handed," the Village Voice criticized the "hysterical rhetoric," and The A.V. Club called it "the documentary equivalent of a raving street-corner derelict."

On its official YouTube channel, Death By China is described as "one of the most popular documentaries on Netflix" for the past three years (though it’s unclear how that conclusion was reached, since Netflix doesn’t release its viewership figures). The documentary isn’t available on Netflix anymore, but back in April, the entire film was uploaded to YouTube, alongside a plea to "please share this film far and wide."

Within its first five minutes, Death By China lays out the stakes: 57,000 American factories closed, 25 million Americans can’t find "a decent job," and the United States owes $3 trillion to China. The roots of our alleged economic woes, Navarro argues, can be traced back to 2001, when the United States enthusiastically endorsed Beijing’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

Navarro attempts to prove this point with an array of cherry-picked talking heads, a series of unenlightening man-on-the-street interviews, and — most strikingly — some computer-animated sequences designed to dramatize Navarro’s argument. In one, a knife bearing the label "Made in China" is plunged into the center of the United States, covering the lower half of the country in a sea of blood. In another, missiles of "currency manipulation" and "illegal export subsidies" are fired from cannons and dropped from planes, leaving American cities in rubble. Navarro structures his film around China’s "Weapons of Job Destruction." Everything is cast in the violent, overheated rhetoric of a war with China — a war Navarro argues we’re losing.

These are all standard tactics in the agitprop documentary playbook: Present one side of a political argument with a dizzying array of semi-credentialed talking heads, leaving dissenting voices on the floor of the editing bay. When your logic is lacking, appeal to emotion instead, depicting derelict factories or unhappy-looking American workers

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