Technology spells opportunity for the creators of “16 Women and Donald Trump”
By Christina Campodonico
The former motel that houses Brave New Films is an interesting place to launch a campaign against sexual assault and a sitting American president.
The nonprofit film company’s headquarters across the street from Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City is rumored to have been the go-to spot for lunchtime dalliances between executives and their girlfriends back when MGM owned the lot.
“I didn’t witness it, but that has been the word,” Brave New Films founder and president Robert Greenwald says in his office — one of those converted motel rooms — surrounded by film posters from his various ventures.
Greenwald, whose early mainstream films include “Xanadu” and “The Burning Bed,” chose to house his film production company (then called Robert Greenwald Productions) in this spot about 20 years ago after a disagreement with a Sony executive.
“I had some fight with the head guy there,” recalls Greenwald. “He threw me off the lot, so I needed a more permanent space, and it was one of those fortunate timings.”
Since setting off on his own, Greenwald has become known for producing muckraking documentaries criticizing the likes of Wal-Mart, the Iraq War and Fox News. He’s pioneered a “guerilla” style of documentary filmmaking profiled in The New York Times — a method built on lean budgets, short schedules, DVD partnerships with grassroots political organizations, and left-leaning views.
More recently, Greenwald’s scrappy documentary film operation, under the name and nonprofit status of Brave New Films, has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times for using social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to distribute its films.
“There are very few gatekeepers,” observed Greenwald of social media to the Times. “That’s beyond liberating. That is the revolution.”
This past fall, Brave New Films recently applied such tactics to refocus public attention on sexual misconduct allegations made against President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In November, about one year after the election, Brave New Films released the documentary short “16 Women and Donald Trump” online, distributing the video in whole or in part through platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. The three-and-a-half-minute video — compiling interviews and quotes from 16 women who’ve accused Trump of sexual misconduct from May 2016 to January 2017 — went viral and has racked up over 2 million views on Facebook alone since its release.
Then, on Dec. 11, Brave New Films held a press conference in New York with three of Donald Trump’s accusers (also featured in “16 Women”) that captured the national press’s attention and tapped into the zeitgeist of the #MeToo movement, a hashtag that’s trended as countless women have come forward on social media to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault.
During the press conference, which Brave New Films streamed on Facebook, Samantha Holvey, Rachel Crooks and Jessica Leeds detailed their experiences with Trump and called on Congress to launch an investigation into the president’s alleged sexual misconduct.
“They’ve investigated Congress members, so I think it only stands fair that he be investigated as well,” Holvey, a former Miss USA contestant who recalled Trump entering a pageant dressing area, said during the press conference.
“I am hoping that this will come forward and produce enough pressure on Congress to address it more than just for their own members but to address it in the president,” added Leeds, who has alleged that Trump groped her during a flight in the early 1980s.
While the White House dismissed their allegations in a statement that day as “false” and “addressed at length during last year’s campaign,” Greenwald and his team produced “16 Women and Donald Trump” precisely because they felt stories of Trump’s accusers had been ignored or forgotten since the 2016 presidential campaign.
“We had been listening to and thinking about this movement, the #MeToo movement,” says “16 Women” and Brave New Films producer Marc Fusco of the video’s inspiration. “But we also felt there was something missing about what we heard back during the campaign trail for Donald Trump, and the allegations that came out. And we thought, ‘What ever happened? Did we listen?’”
For Greenwald, the evidence against Trump could not be ignored any longer, prompting the creation of “16 Women” in a matter of days in November.
“We are living in a post-Weinstein world. We were seeing other men being appropriately fired or called out, and we felt this is the time to do something and not let Trump off the hook,” says Greenwald. “Just because he was president doesn’t give him a pass.”
Moreover, Greenwald saw a ready supply of source material for a shortform expose in the shape of pre-existing video interviews with accusers and numerous reports about Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct.
“As we spent several days just looking at all of the interviews, it became clear that there was a powerful piece to do with existing footage,” says Greenwald. “[We] made a creative decision to not editorialize. … We didn’t add any Fox News [style] graphics or any smash cuts or any loud music, just ‘here it is.’ Very, very low-key and factual.”
Brave New Films decided to take further action by organizing a private dinner for a handful of Trump accusers the night before the media blitz.
“We knew that was a really important thing to do,” says Brave New Films producer Shira Levine, who assembled Holvey, Crooks and Leeds for the press conference, “because they’d never met each other before. So, to ask them to come together in sisterhood, it had to be real. They had to know each other, and we had a really beautiful dinner the night before the floodgates opened.”
Greenwald characterized the dinner as an opportunity for the assembled women, among them Holvey and Crooks, to open up to each other, exchange stories, express their fears and apprehensions of coming forward again, and for this sisterhood of survivors to become “stronger and stronger.”
Levine hopes that this united front of women will have a lasting impact beyond “16 Women’s” viral moment in the sun and offer another opportunity for America to truly listen to their stories.
“The country didn’t listen, and it disappointed them. It was a slap in the face,” says Levine. “But to come together all at once — which is what ‘16 Women and Donald Trump’ really emphasized — hits you really hard in the gut. … You can’t ignore it.”
“It’s not just something you watch on your phone in passing and dismiss it, and next watch a cat video,” adds Fusco. “It’s something that will hopefully empower you to think a little bit deeper and that maybe there’s something you can do.”
Or as Greenwald concludes: “There’s a real value in being able to do shorter pieces that don’t take nine months to make and that you can watch on your phone.”
Watch “16 Women and Donald Trump” at bravenewfilms.org.