Amidst the darkness of twenty-four-hour news cycles and a constant battle between political parties, Rachel Lears attempts to create a light at the end of the tunnel through her documentary Knock Down the House. Filmed during the 2018 United States midterm, Lears’ documentary follows four female Democratic hopefuls, each in their own David versus Goliath-esque battle. Lears not only focuses on the problems each candidate faces as an underdog but also turns her lens towards the sexism and condescension put into play during the election.
Lears centers her documentary on the campaign trail of then-House of Representatives candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Fellow first-time candidates Cori Brush (candidate for Congress), Paula Jean Swearengin (candidate for Senate) and Amy Vilela (candidate for Congress) are also important characters in the narrative whose stories add to the resounding message of the film that documents the extraordinary political journeys a record number of women undertook in the 2018 midterm elections.
Knock Down the House provides a behind-the-scenes view of each woman’s non-corporate funded, grassroots campaign trail. From debating to dealing with the ever-prevalent news cycle of criticism, viewers of this documentary are able to see what it takes to run for office in the American republic. By documenting each woman’s journey, Lears is presenting an idea to the audience that, if not for these women, would not seem attainable. The message is clear: if you’re not happy with your government you have the power to change it.
The climax of Knock Down the House takes place at the end of the documentary, more specifically on November 6, 2018, Election Day. Lears plays on what she suspects most viewers will remember from that night: Ocasio-Cortez’ historic and unprecedented win over her Goliath: former Representative Joe Crowley. However, before this win is revealed, viewers experience the electoral defeat of Bush, Swearengin and Vilela who, despite being unsuccessful, remain resolved to carry on their fights.
Through her documentary, Lears creates a narrative many women are too often familiar with. As Ocasio-Cortez so gracefully described it: “For one of us to make it through, a hundred of us have to try.”
Grace Mary Carolyn Harrison is an aspiring documentary filmmaker located in Southern California. As a film production student at the University of Southern California, she believes film plays an intricate role in the telling of our own personal stories. With a background in small town journalism, she hopes to help tell the stories of the unheard, unseen and underrepresented. More of her work can be seen on her YouTube channel as well as her Twitter account (which she says is much more light-hearted.)