Documentaries can have such great power when it comes to building political narratives, much greater than that of journalism.
Netflix can be a great creator of electoral narratives: In Brazil, many link the release of O Mecanismo (“The Mechanism”), a show about the ‘Lava Jato’ (“Car Wash”) corruption probe, to the fall of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers Party (PT), the consecration of federal judge Sérgio Moro as a national hero, and to Jair Bolsonaro’s 2018 electoral victory.
In Argentina, there are several who opine that if journalist Jorge Lanata hadn’t been compelled, due to illness, to cancel his planned Netflix series on corruption during the Kirchnerite years, due to be released before the August’s PASO primary elections, the end result of the vote would have been different.
A literal translation between Argentina and Brazil is always imperfect. During Michel Temer’s government (the administration that followed Dilma Roussef’s impeachment), three million poor were added to the country’s poverty statistics. The same can be said of Macri in Argentina, although the increase was proportionally less because Brazil’s population is four-and-a-half times larger than Argentina’s.
But that’s not the point. In Brazil, Temer did not attempt re-election, as was the case with Macri here. Macri never wished for Temer’s role, that of being a transitional president, and as Margarita Stolbizer said this week, he is “the one guilty of bringing Cristina Kirchner back to the Executive branch.”
One person making an effort to read Brazil and Argentina literally – and especially within the framework of the lawfare concept – is film director Oliver Stone. He drew parallels between Lula and Cristina, and Sergio Moro and our own federal judge, Claudio Bonadio on his recent tour of Latin America while filming for a new documentary linked to his previous film, South of the Border. During his stay in Argentina two weeks ago, he interviewed Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner together, as well as Juan Grabois and myself.
On his visit to the offices of Editorial Perfil, Stone joked that he would move from Hollywood to Buenos Aires and work here. There is a link here though – journalism is a big protagonist in these stories, as shown in the recent Netflix release Nisman: The Prosecutor, the President, and the Spy. Directed by the English director Justin Webster, many journalists appear in the series, including our own reporter, Rodis Recalt, of Noticias magazine, who pops up throughout the six episodes.
Recalt is the journalist who most persistently criticised the dark web of Argentina’s security services, to the point that the Agencia Federal de Inteligencia (AFI) twice sued him for revealing the names of their agents. Once during the Oscar Parrilli-Juan Martín Mena era (Kirchnerite) and again under Gustavo Arribas-Silvia Majdalani (Macrista). He was also the only one who managed to talk to Antonio Horacio ‘Jaime’ Stiuso in December 2014, before Alberto Nisman’s death, which resulted in Héctor Icazuriaga, Francisco Larcher and Stiuso himself being ushered out.
The Netflix documentary makes a strong point when it highlights an abnormal increase in the number of phone calls between Stiuso and different members of the intelligence agencies on the day Nisman died, which suddenly cut off once the news of the prosecutor’s death becomes public knowledge. However, it has a weak point too, in that it does not acknowledge that Nisman had dismissed a complaint by journalist Pepe Eliaschev about the Iran Memorandum of Understanding with Iran in 2011, two years before going public. This is key in understanding Nisman’s multiple personal motivations and his capacity for erratic thinking. Iran or not Iran was always the question, beyond Trump or Obama, Cristina or Macri.
Another documentary of sorts, but in a cinematic format, is The Two Popes, which is also a Netflix production. Once again, this is a film that tacitly places a journalist as the father of the story. In this case, Horacio Verbitsky, who broke the news of the conflict between Jorge Mario Bergoglio (better known as Pope Francis) and his two subordinates in the Compañía de Jesús, Franz Jalics and Orlando Yorio. The two priests refused to comply with orders from the then-head of the Jesuits to stop evangelising in the villas and shantytowns, a practice that was taken advantage of by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship to forcefully disappear and torture them. The framework of this trauma allows us to better understand the particularly strong commitment that Bergoglio has to the poor.
In each of these creations, the main protagonist is portrayed in a good light: Bergoglio looks good, Nisman looks good and Sérgio Moro looks good. For the former, this already happened too with the 2015 Italian film Llamame Francisco (“Call Me Francis”). Daniele Luchetti, its scriptwriter, explained: “We wanted to tell a mixture of the real Bergoglio and a Bergoglio that is very important in the current context because of what he represents politically. Bergoglio today channels the energy of an entire continent. We had the opportunity to reinforce the part that we felt was important.”
That is why documentaries can have such great power when it comes to building political narratives, much greater than that of journalism. The mixing of real images that give a sense of historical record also allows for fictionalisation, in the case of a recreation.
In the documentary about Nisman, its director Justin Webster tries to maintain a balanced perspective on a subject ravaged by polarisation. But even then, he is unable to move beyond the format imposed by the genre of biopics, which need a protagonist who is exceptional, not a person who happened to live through an exceptional situation. In any case, regarding the relationship between Nisman and the IT technician Diego Lagomarsino, the darkness in both of them emerges with the references to the US$600,000 stashed in a foreign bank account in their names. Neither of them had declared it and Lagomarsino testified that half of what he collected from the prosecutor’s office he was “returning” to Nisman.
In the end, Nisman, Bergoglio and Sérgio Moro are human beings, all of whom have contradictions. Their idealisation responds to society’s need for meaning, for something that transcends. Netflix’s films and documentaries are also a consequence of that too.