Hot Docs 2019: Knock Down the House Review

A Star is Born

The best documentaries capture our attention and never let it go. Their fascinating subjects entertain, inform, and inspire us in a way that only real-life stories can. Some filmmakers sculpt their films out of years of meticulous research and hundreds of hours of footage. While other documentarians are at the right place at the right time. Rachel Lears’ political documentary Knock Down the House is the work of a filmmaker lucky enough to capture lightning in a bottle.

Knock Down the House focuses on four women running for political office during the 2018 congressional elections. And despite the logline, this picture is far from a dry Frederick Wiseman documentary. The four women Lears focuses on are at the forefront of a new democratic movement ushering in a wave of change in American politics. The era of old, rich, white, heteronormative men is coming to an end, and aspiring elected officials Cori Bush, Amy Vilela, Paula Jean Swearengin, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want to tear down old institutions and rebuild them in a more inclusive image.

The film takes us back a year before the midterm elections and profiles each of the four women. Lears really gets into the nitty gritty details of each lady’s pursuit of office. We watch them canvass, acquire signatures, go to their day-jobs, and give speeches to fed-up constituents in large empty halls. This film’s blessing, and its curse, is the presence of America’s newest political rock star, Ocasio-Cortez.

It’s incredible how Lears captured AOC’s improbable ascent, and for that reason alone people will get a kick out of this film. But the movie would be more compelling if it went all in on AOC, or gave equal time to all four subjects. It mostly lionizes AOC while cherry-picking moments from the other women’s campaigns.



Knock Down the House Screening Times:

Sun, Apr 28 – 6:15 PM Isabel Bader Theatre

Mon, Apr 29 – 4:00 PM Isabel Bader Theatre

Fri, May 3 – 6:30 PM Fox Theatre

Sat, May 4 – 1:00 PM Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema


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