Whether any of us like it or not, the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be scrutinized and analyzed for the rest of our lives. One of the boldest cannon shots in that discourse is Get Me Roger Stone, the staggering, shock-to-the-system political documentary about America’s most powerful dirty trickster.
The movie, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, ahead of its May 12 debut on Netflix, chronicles the life and times of Roger Stone, a self-described Machiavellian lobbyist and advisor. Journalist Jeffrey Toobin calls him “a malevolent Forrest Gump,” someone who’s been present at nearly every turning point in American politics over the last four decades.
Though the film, by directors Daniel DiMauro, Dylan Bank, and Morgan Pehme, was more than five years in the making, it took on greater urgency during the last 18 months as Trump began his unlikely ascent to the presidency. Stone, before anyone else, spotted Trump as a potential Commander-in-Chief in the 1980s.
Trump is among the talking heads in the film, as are media figures such as Toobin, Tucker Carlson, and the late Wayne Barrett, who connects Stone and Trump to “the single most evil person I’ve ever covered,” notorious lawyer Roy Cohn. Also explored are Stone’s associations with Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Paul Manafort, and Alex Jones, plus his long and storied history of contempt for Bill and Hillary Clinton.
“Roger’s so unique in that he embraces infamy,” co-director Pehme said after the film’s world premiere. And sure enough, Stone was seated in the second row of the theater during the screening, even if he might have been a little late in showing up.
Pehme continued, “We have concluded, and I think our film demonstrates, that Roger is the person other than Trump who deserves the most credit for the Trump presidency.”
“I was barely involved,” Stone shouted from the audience. Stone departed the Trump campaign in April 2015, with various sources claiming that he quit or was fired — though the documentary credibly establishes that Stone remained an informal Trump advisor, explicitly and otherwise, through Election Day and beyond.
From his seat in the audience, Stone gladly took the microphone to explain the Trump ethos. “I speak to him from time to time,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t divulge the content of those conversations or they would end. The president needs to be able to get advice and not have it end up on page one of the New York Times. But I think this point is made in the movie: Unlike any other political candidate I have worked for, Trump is his own man. You don’t give him talking points that are derived from some poll or some focus group or some roundtable. He’s not reading off briefing memos. It’s all him and he’s amazingly effective as a communicator.”
The three directors, joined after the screening by executive producer Blair Foster, explained the tension between their own political leanings and the subject of their film.
“Thank you for allowing liberal commies to make a movie about you,” co-director DiMauro said, gesturing toward Stone, to which Stone replied, “Dan, where’s your necktie?”
Bank remembered, “Right after we interviewed Trump, Roger called him and [Trump] said, ‘I don’t know about these guys, it’s a liberal hit piece, you shouldn’t do this movie.’ So I’m fully confident he will love it.”
“We hope he’ll tweet about it as much as possible,” DiMauro added.
Bank also said that, although the film runs a svelte 92 minutes, he and his co-directors filmed enough footage for a 10-hour Netflix series. Among the scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor: a moment early on Election Day when the cameras filmed Stone registering an internet domain for http://www.impeachhillary.org. “Just in case,” Stone chided from the crowd.
Executive producer Foster explained her own queasy reaction to working on the film — but also why the documentary is such an essential part of the 2016 postmortem. “As often is the case, unfortunately, what is terrible for the country is great for documentary filmmakers,” she said. “Reliving the election over and over was making me physically ill. It was extremely difficult and painful. But it quickly became a film that I think answers the question of how did Donald Trump become president.”
From the audience, when Foster finished her remarks, Stone nodded his head and applauded.