PARK CITY, Utah — Back in November, T&R Productions, the company behind RT America, was forced to register as a foreign agent in the U.S. It did so under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), with Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente saying in a statement, “Americans have a right to know who is acting in the United States to influence the U.S. government or public on behalf of foreign principals.”
RT America, you see, is a D.C.-based “news” channel that is broadcast to millions of Americans, and is one of many cogs in the RT network, which is funded by the Kremlin.
“The time of detached, unbiased journalism is over… So, editorial policy will be based on love of Russia,” RT chief Dimitry Kiselyov announced to his employees in 2013. “You are a part of the nation, and you are a part of the government. You work for a federal company. If you do a good job, the government improves… If you’re planning any subversive activities, I can tell you right now, that goes against my plan.”
That damning video clip—and many more like it—are included in Our New President, a new documentary that debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. The doc, directed by New York-based filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin, who helmed the award-winning Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, provides a collage of clips of Russia’s state-sponsored fake news that paints a damning portrait of Putinland (think InfoWars on meth).
It opens in curious fashion: with Russian news coverage of then-first lady Hillary Clinton’s 1997 trip to Russia, in which she paid a visit to the Siberian Ice Maiden, a mummy of a woman dating back to the 5th century BC. As the (truly crazy) story goes, Hillary somehow “awakened” its spirit, which subsequently placed a hex on her—causing her husband to have an affair with his intern, as well as sporadic fits of coughing and laughter.
We’re then presented with an inside look at Russian state television’s outrageous coverage of Hillary during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They claim, based on zero evidence, that Hillary’s fainting episode at the 9/11 Memorial may prove “fatal”; repeat the bogus claim that a security guard flanking Clinton is a doctor armed with a syringe who’s “always ready if Hillary has a spell”; provide (fake) medical records of Clinton alleging that she suffers from, among other things, “dementia” and “retardation”; allege that the Clinton administration “began every day by doing drugs” and that Clinton brought a team of “cocaine users” to the White House; and breathlessly report on the ridiculous “death list” comprised of “enemies of the Clintons who died suspiciously.”
But wait, there’s more. They (falsely) parrot the popular right-wing conspiracy theory that the late Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was a “programmer” who “leaked Clinton’s emails and was an important witness”; refer to her as “Killary’; claim that she “psychologically raped” the “victims” of Bill Clinton; and, with a week before the election, baselessly accuse the Dems of orchestrating an illegal voting operation.
About 20 minutes in comes the flip side of the coin: Russian state TV’s glowing coverage of candidate Donald J. Trump.
The former reality-TV host is described by “news” anchors as a “troubled teenager from Brooklyn” (he grew up filthy rich, and is from Queens) who achieved the American dream and even “looks like Uncle Sam.” They glowingly report on his failed casinos in Atlantic City, and, compare Melania Trump favorably to Michelle Obama, stating: “The new first lady prefers politics and business to dirt and garden tools.”
They report that, during their Oval Office meeting, a hunched-over Trump was “composed like an English lord” while Obama had his legs spread in an “indecent pose that is forbidden in NYC subways,” and that he “waved his hands like he was in the jungle.” Anti-Trump protesters, according to Russian state TV, are paid “a monthly retainer of $2,500 plus $50/hr,” and anchors routinely worry that President-elect Trump may be assassinated at his inauguration because he wants to “mend relations with Russia.” Trump’s anti-LGBT stances are celebrated, with a reporter remarking, “He knows the destruction of the family leads to the downfall of the state.” They even find a way to compliment his tiny hands and thumbs.
Oh, and if all the racism, sexism. and homophobia weren’t enough, they also accuse a cabal of rich American Jews, including George Soros, of plotting to “overthrow” or even “kill” President Trump.
Pozdorovkin even takes viewers inside a Russian “troll factory,” where Russian shitposters spend day and night creating and spreading anti-Hillary and pro-Trump memes on social media, before alleging that the operation is directly connected to RT.
The film’s funniest moments explore the cultural hysteria in Russia over the election of Trump. They manufacture incredibly creepy “Trump beds” that look like giant sleighs, with a an American flag emblazoned on the side and Trump’s fake, impossibly white chompers on the bumper; a St. Petersburg artist proudly displays the painting she created of Trump using her breasts; a kooky Russian “scientist” describes how he’s convinced that Trump “descends from Russia’s founders”; and, last but certainly not least, a laughably bad rap video dedicated to Trump is shown, featuring a plethora of platitudes and booty-shaking backup dancers along with the refrain: “My President Donald.”
Some of the clips are repetitive and the cumulative effect of watching all this insanity wears on you after a while, but Pozdorovkin has done an impressive job of weaving together all of this disparate footage in order to fashion a terrifying look at a country that helped elect our new commander in chief.