In Focus

Steve Bannon’s brand of brinksmanship

Steve Bannon in “The Brink.”
Steve Bannon in “The Brink.”Magnolia Pictures

Don’t count Steve Bannon out.

In August 2017 he left his position as Donald Trump’s chief strategist in seeming disgrace. Since then, as seen in Alison Klayman’s documentary “The Brink,” he has rebounded by organizing populist and nationalist leaders in Europe and cozying up to billionaire donors. Filming over the course of 13 months during which she had surprisingly close access to her subject, Klayman offers a glimpse into the workings of a master of media manipulation who still dreams of shaping history.

Klayman spoke by telephone from New York last month about her film.

Q. Steve Bannon was recently on CNN with Anderson Cooper. Is he back on track for 2020?


A. I didn’t watch it but I was alerted by people on the film team. I saw it was trending number one on Twitter in New York. People couldn’t believe he was on CNN. It is exactly the kind of media coverage that I think “The Brink” is inviting people to question. It’s part of the problem. Not everything Bannon says is news. It is a mistake and harmful and irresponsible.

On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised. I was in those rooms for 13 months and I know how those media operations go and how he is able to negotiate so much time. He’ll be a figure in the spotlight as long as people make room for him in the mainstream media.

Q. Your film is more observational than polemical, more Frederick Wiseman than Michael Moore. Was it difficult to maintain that distance?

A. It was frustrating. I always wanted to say something, but what was harder was watching him not being called out or challenged. I had been listening to him so much and then someone comes in and interviews him and they don’t know he’s telling them something he’s said 18 times before. I would have heard his answers enough times to know what they should be asking.


But I was impressed by reporters who would interview him and then chose not to write about it. Then there was that Paul Lewis scene [a Guardian reporter who pressed Bannon on his anti-Semitism]. Reporters worried about losing access should take note that Bannon still gave interviews to Lewis after that. You can ask those follow-up questions and still see him again.

Q. Like Michael Wolff, author of the White House exposé “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” for which Bannon was a key source. I was surprised to see Wolff in the movie. They still seem chummy .

A. He was around a lot, and I always wondered why. I asked Bannon, but he never let me film their interactions. I think it’s been reported that Wolff is working on something new with him. But that’s another reminder that Bannon needs the press as much as they need him. “Fire and Fury” had negative consequences for Bannon it would seem, and yet he and Wolff are still close.

Q. Do you have any filmmaking plans for 2020?

A. I’ve been approached for some things. I don’t know if I will do a full documentary or make a smaller contribution. I feel getting out the vote is the most important thing. Maybe I could help with that.

“The Brink” can be seen at the Kendall Square Cinema. 


Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.