Knock Down the House

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Pre-Production


Behind the scenes and on the ground, this vérité film follows an unprecedented national campaign to fill Congress with extraordinary ordinary people in 2018.


At a time of national turmoil, the team of maverick political operatives behind Brand New Congress is plotting the most ambitious civic experiment in American history. Their controversial plan to run progressive non-politicians in both Democratic and Republican Congressional primaries will bring them into conflict with powerful interests across the country.


With a fast-paced observational style, this film will evoke the bootstrapping drive of a tech startup narrative and the gritty politicking of vérité campaign films. Our cinematic approach will fuse vérité scenes and montages with storyboarded character development sequences in an arresting visual style. Both the spontaneous energy of on-the-fly interviews and reflective insights from intimate sit down interviews will enrich the complex themes that emerge in vérité material, enhanced at times by a minimalist score and carefully chosen songs. Vistas from drones, cars and other vantage points will intercut with street photography to locate this multi-sited narrative in diverse landscapes from suburban sprawl to majestic mountains, establishing senses of place in cinematic locales across the United States. Energetic media montages will trace the campaign’s exposure from underground scheme to the public eye, and we’ll creatively edit and animate screencasts and graphical elements to illuminate the tech-enabled pace and scale of the campaign.

Alongside the story of the national Brand New Congress campaign, we will follow two local candidates, a Republican and a Democrat, from the difficult first decision to run for office through to the aftermath of the primary and general elections of 2018. We’ll highlight candidates’ personal transformations as they struggle to remain deeply connected to their children, partners and local communities, as well as the on-the-ground tensions of challenging incumbents and engaging with voters, from heated town hall debates to intensely personal conversations in diners and on doorsteps. How will the Democratic and Republican parties respond to these unusual challengers? How will our protagonists navigate the emotional, physical and logistical demands of running for national office while continuing to work for local change? The film will follow this controversial and compelling story in nuanced ways that allow viewers to come to their own conclusions about the political ideas and strategies explored by the characters.

As the elections approach, we’ll follow the local and national campaigns’ growth from nerve-wracking TV appearances to the scaling up of volunteer tactics like phone banking parties and canvassing. There will be humorous challenges involving eccentric volunteers, tensions at meetings of the diverse candidate cohort, and emotional twists and turns within both the presidential-style “war room” of the national campaign and the local candidate-led stories. Our vérité coverage will capture moments that reveal internal conflicts, tense interactions with voices opposed to the protagonists, and the heightened uncertainty of campaign turning points. Against the backdrop of events during the first two years of the Trump presidency, this film will ask what it would really take for ordinary people to press reset on government. No matter what happens, this story will reveal cracks in the political system and illuminate the nature of power in the United States. If Brand New Congress succeeds even partially, it has the potential to reshape the way we think about democracy and social change in America.


Rachel Lears - Director/ Producer/ Cinematographer
Rachel's most recent feature documentary, The Hand That Feeds, won awards and recognition at Full Frame, DOC NYC, AFI Docs, Chicago Latino, and numerous other festivals on the 2014-15 circuit. It was supported by Sundance Documentary Film Program, the Ford Foundation, Latino Public Broadcasting, Chicken & Egg Pictures, New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund, and the Cinereach Project at Sundance Institute, and was featured at Good Pitch NY, Sundance Creative Producing Lab & Summit, and IFP's Spotlight on Documentaries. Rachel’s first film Birds of Passage (2010) was supported by Fulbright and the National Film Institute of Uruguay (ICAU), had two community screening tours of Uruguay sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Culture, and was broadcast nationally throughout Latin America. Her video art collaborations with artist Saya Woolfalk have screened at numerous galleries and museums worldwide since 2008. Rachel was a 2013 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow, is bilingual in Spanish, and holds a PhD in Cultural Anthropology and a graduate certificate in Culture and Media from NYU. Between independent projects, she works as a cinematographer, director/ producer, and consultant.

Robin Blotnick - Director/ Producer/ Editor
Robin is a 2013 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow. His feature documentary debut, Gods and Kings (2012), about masks, magic and media in the Guatemalan highlands, won the Intangible Culture Prize at the RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Films (Scotland, 2013) and was the opening night film at Ethnocineca (Austria, 2014). His latest documentary, The Hand That Feeds (2014), about a bitter struggle for justice at a New York City deli, broadcast on PBS and picked up awards at several festivals (including Full Frame, DOC NYC and AFI Docs) and press acclaim at its theatrical run this Spring. His latest project, City of Movement, an archival collage, is currently playing on infinite loop at the Museum of the City of New York. Between directing projects, he works as an editor in a variety of genres.


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