Knock Down the House is the rare documentary about today’s American political landscape that might make you shed happy tears. And after a triumphant festival run — including winning the Audience Award for US Documentary and Festival Favorite Award at its Sundance premiere in January — it’s coming to Netflix and select theaters on May 1.
The first trailer captures the hopeful spirit of the film. For months during 2018, director Rachel Lears followed four progressive Democratic candidates, all women, who ran primary campaigns against establishment Democrats in the midterm elections: Amy Vilela in Nevada, Cori Bush in Missouri, Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York.
Only Ocasio-Cortez was ultimately successful in her bid, and Knock Down the House feels, in the end, as if it’s mostly her story. (The fact that she is incredibly charismatic doesn’t hurt; a scene in which she deconstructs the graphic design of her opponent’s campaign materials is unexpectedly unforgettable.)
But Lear smartly uses candidates from across the country, living in very different communities with different political terrain, to make a larger point: Whether or not you agree with a given individual’s politics at every point, there’s a hunger to upend America’s current ruling class.
Since 2016, much of the chatter from pundits and media has been about that hunger, insofar as it intersected with Donald Trump’s rhetoric. But now, the women Lear selected as subjects for her film, and others who were elected to Congress, represent a different path for politicians who advocate for ordinary people. It’s a path that also rings more authentic, given they actually come from the same background as the constituents they’re bidding to serve.
The resulting film is Knock Down the House. And while it’s obviously a liberal feel-good movie, it sounds a broad note of hope: It’s not just blowhard billionaires with media expertise who have a chance to represent “real America.” Plain old shoe-leather canvassing and showing up in your community can make a real difference.