‘Knock Down the House’ captures story of four progressive, female primary candidates

Sundance favorite “Knock Down the House” tells the story of powerful women during the 2018 midterm primaries, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin.

Lined up Saturday morning in front of The Blue Note was a throng of True/False Film Fest-goers. The documentary they were waiting for, “Knock Down the House,” would only start at 9:30 a.m. but with the anticipated high numbers of viewers, many had already arrived an hour prior to the showing.

Director Rachel Lears thanked the audience for its dedication before revealing that she had previously lived in Columbia for six years and was glad she could be back in the city.

“This project started in the fall of 2016,” Lears said, introducing the film. “After the [presidential] election, I really wanted to find a story about solidarity, about people of different backgrounds, from different places in the country coming together around common ground to build a positive vision for our country. The film is really about power, finding power in yourself and building it in the world. It’s about making the politically impossible, possible.”

“Knock Down the House” delivers a story about four progressive female candidates of the 2018 midterm elections. Following Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin, the documentary was filled with humor and grace along with somber and emotional moments. Raw, vulnerable and emotional, the tone of the movie captured the hopefulness of this period of American politics. The film centers itself on movement and change for women of color, for the working-class people and for the people whose voices are not heard.

The audience laughed and cried with the women on-screen. Each of the candidates had unique backstories, but all strove to bring change. Lears was able to capture four distinct stories in a unified manner, moving the audience with these four grassroots female candidates. All of the women are personable, constantly making hilarious quips even while they face hardships head-on with fierceness and determination. There’s no wonder why it won Sundance’s Festival Favorite Award.

While the applause was already going as the credits rolled, standing ovations ensued when Lears invited democratic candidate Cori Bush onstage. Bush was smiling and crying as the applause continued for minutes, the crowd cheering her name.

“What you just saw was the many hairstyles of Cori Bush,” Bush said, quick to make a joke despite her teary eyes, referring to the different looks she pulled off in the documentary. She proceeded to show off her shirt declaring “publicly support black women” and implored the audience to support women of color and trans women publicly because “it doesn’t happen often enough.”

“The whole point of this project — the political project and the film project — is to ask, ‘What would it look like if we had regular people with integrity represent us in government?’” Lears said. “And what would it take to get there? And what it takes is movements locally and nationally. It takes dozens, hundreds and thousands of people coming together to support the people brave enough to put themselves out there to be the public face of [the movement]. What it takes is people like Cori, Alexandria, Amy and Paula to take that risk and…try. Because we’re never going to have any of it if we don’t try.”

Bush also shared, much to the audience’s joy, that she is running again for the next election.

“You got to be fearless in every moment because they’re coming at us from every side,” Bush said. “For me, it’s just a little bit harder, because when they see a black woman, I’m told black women shouldn’t really be in Congress. One thing that they said to me was that my hips are too big to be in Congress. So what I do is I show my hips.”

The crowd cheered for Lears and Bush once again as the event ended. The hopefulness of the film and the hopefulness of Bush’s announcement on running again left the audience members smiling as they left the venue.

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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