Steve Bannon is the star of American Dharma, the new documentary from Errol Morris in which he turns his lens on the alt-right figure and Breitbart News co-founder who helped Trump win the presidential election. But at the Venice Film Festival, Bannon wasn’t basking in the limelight: Variety reports that while he was expected to arrive at the premiere of American Dharma on the red carpet, he instead “walked in through a side entrance just as the screening was about to start and sat in a balcony seat at the back.” The outlet reports that he also slipped away before the lights came back on.
Variety confirmed Bannon’s attendance with Alberto Barbera, the festival’s artistic director, who said that Bannon’s security detail had recommended he not attend. The timing of American Dharma’s premiere puts it just a couple of days after Bannon was uninvited from the New Yorker Festival following several guests dropping out or threatening to drop out of the event over his involvement. Representatives from the Toronto and New York film festivals, where American Dharma is scheduled to screen next week and next month, respectively, told Indiewire that Bannon had not been invited, and a TIFF representative said there was “no indication he plans to attend.”
A similar ethical question, about how Morris engages with Bannon while giving him a platform, is shaping some of American Dharma’s first reviews. Morris has defended making Bannon the subject of his documentary, telling the Boston Review that “there’s a lot to be gained” by interviewing him. “I consider myself a journalist, proudly so, and the job of journalism is not to have five pundits sitting around a table on Fox News or CNN. The job of journalists is to report—to go out, look at stuff, and report on it,” he said. “I went out in the field and this is what I saw, and I would like to present it to you for your consideration.”
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman is not impressed with that defense, however, rejecting the idea that American Dharma is investigative journalism at all. In his review, Gleiberman calls the documentary “a toothless bromance” and says that Morris doesn’t challenge his subject’s “most brazen lies,” like downplaying the role of overt racism in Donald Trump’s election. After watching the documentary, Gleiberman writes, “you’d probably find [Bannon] to be a fascinating, compelling, and at times even charming figure. If that sounds like a swipe against the movie, it is.”
Over at the Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young is slightly more generous with Morris, writing that while he may not have stood up to Bannon verbally, he ends the documentary “with a visual bang, a metaphor of wanton destruction that leaves the viewer with goose bumps. If anyone has doubts about Morris’ own point of view, seeing that he never raises his voice to shout down his subject, this conclusive image should make it very clear where he’s at.” She also writes that Morris spends a significant amount of time addressing the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which Bannon defends with a familiar refrain, that “there were decent people on both sides.”
As much as Bannon was apparently trying to go incongito at the Venice premiere, he didn’t make much effort to disguise himself. According to Variety, he was sporting his signature style, “dressed informally in a dark T-shirt and looked quite scruffy” at the screening. At press time, Bannon could not be reached for comment, but another Venice attendee, Schmeve Schmannon, said, “I think Steve Bannon is a fashion icon.”