301 days have passed since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, and 228 since his inauguration. In that time, he has revealed a deep wound in the American psyche. Recent horrors, like the events in Charlottesville, highlight an undercurrent of hatred that has festered in the dark for the past few decades. Militant, evil, and shockingly prevalent, neo-Nazis are once again dominating the news cycle. That is the reality of 2017.
For some of us, the natural response to that statement will be to go looking for one of them to punch. For others, hiding under the covers with ice-cream and normal people seems most appropriate. This list represents my version of a middle-ground between the two. It’s a list designed for a movie night with nice people, where you get a chance to debate the finer points, while also confronting those points in powerfully immediate ways. Some of these films are satisfying because the Nazis lose; some of them are challenging because they don’t; all of them are must-sees.
Welcome to Leith (2015: documentary – currently on Netflix)
In 2012, white supremacist Craig Cobb attempted to democratically take over the small town of Leith, North Dakota. Cobb’s plan was simple: legally purchase land, invite other white supremacists to live on it, and slowly develop a voting majority. What followed was two years of hell for the townspeople, who became trapped between the legality of their new neighbours, and the poison that came with them. Welcome to Leith is perhaps the most confronting film on this list, purely for the fact that it challenges several pillars of the democratic process. Fictional neo-Nazis tend to be distant villains or incompetent terrorists at worst, but in Leith, they are a genuinely terrifying force; a cancer that tempts people into destroying the moral building blocks of their society, just to cut it out.
Imperium (2016: drama)
Daniel Radcliffe destroys his Harry Potter image playing an FBI agent undercover with white supremacists. It’s a heady concept, made weirder with the addition of Toni Collette as his supervisor. Thankfully, director Daniel Ragussis grounds it all with detailed depictions of the various groups caught up in the investigations. There’s the “above ground” intellectuals, the hot-headed skinheads, and finally the underground militants, all coming together to create a riveting tapestry of hate. For a broad overview of the many factions within the white supremacist movement, there are few films as effective as Imperium. The intellectuals, in particular, serve as a disturbing reminder that these groups hide in plain sight. They are your neighbours, your co-workers, your friends; normal people but for their penchant for swastika cupcakes (a real thing) and cross-burning.
The Anatomy of Hate (2009: documentary)
This one goes a little wider than the other films. Director Mike Ramsdell’s vision is more about a broad overview of several different manifestations of hate: the Westboro Baptist Church, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Al-Quaeda, and the white supremacist movement. It makes for a useful discussion tool, as it puts the groups in their proper context and offers insight into the psychology behind extremism. Though Ramsdell’s ambition often exceeds his grasp – the limited production values are a sore point – I have nonetheless included the film for its message of hope. Using real world examples, such as The Combatants for Peace, the film proves that it is possible to address the extremist issue without resorting to more violence. To some, that might sound like pacifist garbage, but it’s a perspective that’s important in a world already filled with hate.
Green Room (2016: horror/thriller – currently on Netflix)
A poor punk band inadvertently books a gig at a white supremacist compound, witness a murder while trying to leave, and subsequently get trapped in the titular backstage lounge. Caught between a rock and murderous Nazis, the band is forced to think on their feet to escape, leading to some extraordinarily tense moments. Green Room is a gory thrill ride of a film, fascinating in its subtleties, but not for the faint of heart. Arms meet knives, bodies meet ravenous dogs, and through it all the film expects you to maintain a level head and keep up with several different conflicts. For those who can stomach it, a second viewing will prove highly rewarding, just to pick up on its surprising intricacies. Its villains are smart and vicious, making it all the more terrifying when they score a hit, and immensely satisfying when they get taken out.
Look Who’s Back (2015: comedy – currently on Netflix)
Without question, Look Who’s Back will be the most controversial film of the night. Its central conceit is simple enough: Adolf Hitler (Oliver Masucci) wakes up in the present day and gets picked up by unemployed writer Fabian Sawatzki (Fabian Busch). Sawavatzki thinks it’s all an insane act and attempts to turn his new friend into the latest television hit. Yes, this is a film about Hitler getting his own TV show. And honestly, it kind of works.
What makes Look Who’s Back so gripping is the complete erasure of the line between scripted sequences and improvised interviews. Certain portions of the film are simply Hitler interacting with normal German people and capturing their reactions. Think Borat or The Colbert Report, but far weirder. The point is to get people to realise that their ideas resemble Hitler’s, but the film refuses to plainly condemn those ideas, thereby forcing you to come to your own conclusions.
At times it can feel like it isn’t doing enough to distance itself from the evil at its centre, but that’s a deliberate choice designed to encourage more discussion around how a modern day Hitler would function. It’s the perfect film for a movie night like this one because it’s both hilarious and thought-provoking. Don’t be discouraged by its ambiguity, stick with it to the end and I promise you won’t regret it.
Images courtesy of First Run Pictures, Transmission Films, Under the Hood Productions/Redwood Palms Pictures, Rialto Distribution and Netflix