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Fake news, endangered butterflies, a quixotic run, challenging shorts

President Trump and Vladimir Putin in a scene from “Our New President.”
President Trump and Vladimir Putin in a scene from “Our New President.”LEF Foundation

The Russian propaganda antics gleefully exposed in Maxim Pozdorovkin’s pastiche documentary “Our New President” pale in comparison to the extreme manifestations in our own media (many of them, no doubt, of Russian origin). But backed by a boisterous soundtrack resembling that of a James Bond movie, this compilation of broadcasts from the official Russian TV news network, YouTube items from ordinary Russians, and assorted ceremonial appearances by Vladimir Putin, presents a wacky alternative history to the events leading up to and following the 2016 election. 

It begins with Hillary Clinton-bashing stories going back to the 1990s, when she took a tour of Russia and visited the tomb of an alleged mummified warrior princess. This resulted in the so-called Curse of the Princess, and a subsequent litany of reports on her health problems, her involvement in assassinations and pedophile rings, the WikiLeaks hacking, and pretty much every canard picked up by political opponents.

Donald Trump doesn’t get a free ride in the Russian media, either. After he’s at first presented as an epitome of power and progress second only to Putin, his election is greeted with champagne and gloating. Soon the response deteriorates into mockery. “Next time Putin will just appoint the president directly,” says one commentator. When Trump bombs a Syrian airbase after that Russian ally is implicated in a chemical attack, stories emerge about the suspect mental health of their one-time favorite chief executive.

Infuriating, horrifying, and hilarious, “Our New President” shows the Russian knack for outrageously imaginative, Gogolesque fictions – one TV talking head even refers to phony US voters for Clinton as “dead souls.” But these tactics work — on their people and on ours as well.


“Our New President” screens as part of the DocYard on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. The director will be attending in person for a Q&A.

A butterfly effect

On the early evening of Sept. 11, 2001, walking through the Fenway, I saw scores of Monarch butterflies flitting southward in the dusk light. After the morning’s horror, it stirred a flicker of hope.

But if it was an omen, it might have been a bad one, at least for the Monarchs themselves. Their winter destination in Mexico has been devastated by logging and other industries. As pointed out in Ben Crosbie and Tessa Moran’s documentary “The Guardians,” the Monarch population has declined over the years from 1 billion to 33 million .


Fortunately, Mexico has established the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve to preserve the forests crucial to the butterflies’ survival. Indigenous communities have volunteered to plant saplings and protect the woods from outsiders trying to cut them down. Crosbie and Moran follow the lives of these guardians over the course of three years. Not only are they protecting the butterflies, but they must struggle for their own survival in the face of failing crops, hostile neighbors, and uncooperative authorities.

But every year the butterflies return, and the film’s images of thousands of them clinging to trees for warmth or in flight through the sunlit forest can still be regarded as symbols of hope.

“The Guardians” can be seen on PBS World Channel’s “Doc World” on Oct. 28 at 10 p.m. followed by a streaming window.

Underdog doc

Reed Lindsay’s “Charlie vs Goliath” is a lesson for those who have given up on the electoral process. A former Catholic priest who had done missionary work among the poor in South America, 75-year-old Charlie Hardy decided in 2014 that to make a difference in his native Wyoming, where economic inequality was increasing as outside corporations grew more powerful, he was going to run for political office. Hardy aimed high — he took on an incumbent US senator, Republican Mike Enzi.

Hardy ran as a Democrat (who in Wyoming, according to one of those whose vote he solicits, are as “welcome as a burr under a saddle”) in a campaign that was as determined as it was improvised. He toured the state in a 1970 school bus with a handful of volunteers who sing “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and affectionately made fun of his quixotic zeal. Even the state Democratic Party rejected him, and in part because of this he raised only $5,000 in funds from individual donors, compared to over $3 million his opponent raised from corporate donors and SuperPACs.


But Charlie thought he could win, and a lot of those skeptical voters he met on the road also ended up believing he could. A modern-day Frank Capra story, “Charlie vs Goliath” will make you feel a twinge of guilt every time you doubt the capacity of the common people to initiate change.

“Charlie vs Goliath” can be seen on PBS’s “America Reframed” on the World Channel on Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. Fee-free streaming is available on worldchannel.org and other PBS-affiliated outlets.

The medium is the message

The trancelike shorts in the program Alchemy and Apparatus — The Films of Richard Tuohy  and Dianna Barrie take commonplace images from around the world and with inventive optical and editing means render them into short documentary-ish haikus and meditative mandalas. Whether the subject is Jakarta traffic, in “Pancoran” (2017), scenes from Hong Kong and Taiwan, in “China Not China” (2018), Malaysian windows and arches, in Blending and Blinding (2018), or urban towers, in “Blue Line Chicago” (2014), these kaleidoscopic, sometimes vertiginous works will make you see ordinary reality – and the act of perception itself – in new ways.  

Alchemy and Apparatus – The Films of Richard Tuohy and Dianna Barrie can be seen at the Harvard Film Archive, Carpenter Center, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge, on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. The filmmakers will participate in a Q&A.

Go to library.harvard.edu/film/films/2018sepnov/tuohy.html. 

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