Filmmaker behind Bannon doc says the movie a 'damning portrayal'
© Greg Nash

Alison Klayman says she didn’t know what to expect before meeting Stephen Bannon for the first time ahead of filming a documentary on the former Trump adviser.

But as she sat at the dining room table at the Capitol Hill rowhouse known as the Breitbart Embassy, the ex-White House chief strategist appeared.

“He walked in the room and just was larger than life, talking nonstop, changing the subject, throwing out stats and numbers and anecdotes and stories from all over,” Klayman recalls. “In the first 10 seconds, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a person who’s going to say stuff on camera.’ ”

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The director spent the next 13 months trailing Bannon for “The Brink,” which opens in select theaters on March 29. The cinéma vérité-style documentary follows Bannon from October 2017 through the 2018 midterm elections. It captures him shuttling on a private plane to meet world leaders and potential donors, producing a pro-Trump film and speaking and promoting a populist agenda at venues around the globe. Some of the events are packed with supporters, and other times the rooms held merely a handful of Trump fans.

In the opening minutes of the doc, Bannon says there was “no glamour” to his role in the White House and he “hated every second” he was there.

“You go to a church or a temple or a mosque or something like that, you can get a vibe of all the prayers and the mantras and the positive energy that these places have,” Bannon, 65, says. “And then you go into, like, a Jersey strip club on, like, 1 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, and you got the vibe of there’s a lot of bad stuff — the vibes of sacred and the profane.”

“The West Wing has got a bad karma to it, it just has a bad feeling,” adds Bannon, who left the Trump administration in August 2017. “They would say, ‘Because you were doing evil stuff.’ I actually thought I was doing the Lord’s work.”

Bannon, once one of Trump’s closest advisers, fell out of favor in the White House after he was quoted in Michael Wolff’s 2018 book “Fire and Fury” making disparaging remarks about President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE’s family.

Bannon stepped down as chairman of Breitbart News days after Wolff’s book was released.

Wolff, Trump wrote in a tweet last year, “used Sloppy Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonWeld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump The specter of Steve Bannon may loom over 2020 Trump campaign Sunday shows - Trump's Epstein conspiracy theory retweet grabs spotlight MORE, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”

Other moments in the film show a self-deprecating sense of humor. As Bannon reads the comments section on an article, he notes aloud that one refers to him as a “gross-looking Jabba the Hutt drunk” and laughs as he says, “Oh my God, so funny.” In another scene, he remarks on how he’s now among those who drinks fermented tea. “Once the film comes out and people know I drink Kombucha, the stock will drop 50 percent,” Bannon quips.

“What my producer and I promised [Bannon] was a fair portrayal and a high-quality arthouse film. I think we delivered,” Klayman says of the documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

But the 34-year-old filmmaker says she struggled “every day of working on this film and every night” with ITK’s next question: What would she say to critics who argue Bannon’s worldview shouldn’t be highlighted on the big screen?

“Every day I would check in with myself and be reconfirming, what is the value of what you’re doing?” says Klayman. “This was really to look at our time — at the relationship between the media and him at the rise of far-right extremism, nationalism, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiment — on a global scale, and to tell that story.”

Klayman says she was “not there in disguise in any way.” From the first meeting with Bannon, Klayman — who made 2012’s “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” — says she was introduced as a “progressive woman.” Klayman says Bannon “would joke and call me ‘My leftie, commie, Brown University filmmaker over here.’ ”

Klayman says she hasn’t talked to the subject of “The Brink” since the early morning hours after the midterms, when she took off his microphone following filming.

Bannon declined to comment to The Hill about his reaction to the film.

Calling her work a “damning portrayal” of Bannon, Klayman was asked by ITK why Bannon would agree to participate in the documentary. “He believes in great men of history and he likes to see himself as one, and I think it plays to his vanity,” she replies.

“I think he’s a propagandist and he’s a messenger. He’s always trying to sell something,” she says, when asked to describe him. “In some ways he has great self-awareness and then in other ways he’s completely blind.”

“He’s trying to convert people and I think using the media, that’s a big tool in his bag. Every day my daily mantra was: Let him be underestimating me, and let me never underestimate him.”