Depot Docs opens season with Weiner
by James O’Barr
Depot Docs opens its 11th season at the Philipstown Depot Theatre on Garrison’s Landing on Friday, Sept. 30, with the winner of this year’s Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize (Documentary), Weiner. Yes, friends, that Weiner, former Congressman Anthony, of New York’s 9th district.
Co-directed by Josh Kriegman, Weiner’s one-time chief of staff, and Elyse Steinberg, the filmmakers had what appears to be complete — and what eventually feels like almost unseemly — access to Weiner as they set out to witness the redemption of his political fortunes in a run for New York City mayor in 2013. Instead, they record in excruciating detail the train wreck that Weiner engineered just as his poll numbers and his prospects began to accelerate.
Weiner’s original fall from grace occurred in 2011 after photos of him in his distended underwear posted to his Twitter account went viral. It turned out the married Congressman had been sexting with a 21-year-old female college student, among other people. Within three weeks, he’d resigned his seat in Congress.
Two years later, the ambitious, scrappy and ultimately unapologetic Weiner announces his run for mayor, assembles a young and enthusiastic staff and agrees to have Kriegman and Steinberg film the campaign, hoping, in effect, for a G-rated remake with a happy ending. “That was his intention and that was ours as well: taking someone who had been ridiculed and reduced and offering a more complex portrait,” Steinberg has said.
Perhaps the critical element in this scenario is the riveting presence of Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin. As the film opens, Abedin presents a cool, dignified but fully engaged picture of support for her husband. However, when a new set of sexting photos, sent from his Twitter account under the nom de jouer Carlos Danger, begins making the rounds, Abedin becomes visibly tense and withdrawn, her face increasingly a mask.
Only toward the end of the film does she allow her feelings to cross the distance she’s taken from the campaign (and, it would seem, from her husband) since the revelations and the media frenzy. Weiner is watching a clip of an interview in which MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell asks him several times, “What’s wrong with you?” Weiner seems to be enjoying the moment until we hear Abedin ask him, “Why are you laughing?”
Both good questions for which Weiner has no answers. Many commentators on the film agree with Kriegman that what ails our political system “goes well beyond Anthony’s story. You see how much the political conversation in the U.S. is driven by spectacle, sensationalism, and this insatiable appetite for what’s entertaining, rather than what’s substantive.”
At the same time, it’s clear that if there is a star of the film, and a redeeming feature of a tawdry tale, it would have to be Abedin, whose quiet composure while enduring her husband’s grossly bad behavior, and the rudeness of paparazzi, all while being filmed, is a study in grace under pressure. Abedin is no stranger to pressure, having been at Hillary Clinton’s right hand since working for her when she was First Lady and at the State Department, and she is now vice chairwoman of Clinton’s presidential campaign. In Weiner, Abedin radiates substantive, and one only wishes her husband had taken notes. (On Aug. 29, after Weiner was again caught sexting, this time by the New York Post, Abedin said the couple was separating.)
Weiner will be shown at the Depot Theatre on Garrison’s Landing at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, followed by a Q&A with Kriegman and a reception. The screening had sold out as of Sept. 24; to be added to the wait list, call 845-424-3900.