‘WEINER’ directors expose hard truths

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anthonyweiner-1453231900 copyPreston Barta // Editor

Perhaps you’re familiar with the story of Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Back in 2011, he tweeted a picture of his penis to a woman that was not his pregnant wife. Long story short, he resigned in disgrace. But the chances are you might not have followed up on him to see what’s been going on since the incident.

This is where directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg come in to fill in the holes.

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin. Photo courtesy of Kathy Willens / Associated Press.

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin. Photo courtesy of Kathy Willens / Associated Press.

The appropriately titled documentary, WEINER, focuses on the aftermath of the politician’s happening. What initially was a documentary that was supposed to chronicle the comeback story of Weiner’s 2013 mayoral run in New York quickly became a story engulfed in a sex scandal. All was going well before more allegations came to light and his sexting exploits surfaced, which released new and even more explicit photos of him.

The film provides viewers with an unbelievable amount of behind the scenes access to Weiner’s life. Like the Academy Award-winning documentary AMY, the film hopes to paint a portrait that’s more than a mere headline.

At the time of his scandal, we read headlines like “Crooked Weiner” that labeled the politician as a bad nut. However, the point of the film, according to the filmmakers is to tell a more complete story and replace the punchline version of what he became.

One of the film’s directors, Kriegman (producer for MADE series), knew Weiner from years ago working in politics.

“Before his scandal, I was his chief of staff in congress for a couple of years,” said Kriegman. “After his resignation, we talked about the possibility of doing a documentary. The idea was (that) here was a multifaceted, dynamic and nuanced person who had a 20-year career in politics and was wiped out overnight. We wanted to capture the complexity beyond the headline.”

The film is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking account of one man’s rise and fall – and rise and fall again – but it’s also a staggering commentary on our culture’s use of social media.

Today, we are more vocal than ever. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have given people access to put out information instantly. And while this is a beneficial tool in expressing one’s self or promoting a product, it has also led to many people’s undoing.

On the other hand, this doesn’t seem to apply to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his campaign. In March, Trump spoke freely about the size of his genitalia and the media went berzerk.

Directors Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman from the film WEINER pose for a portrait at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Jay L. Clendenin / LA Times.

Directors Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman from the film WEINER pose for a portrait at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Jay L. Clendenin / LA Times.

“All the rules are out in Trump’s campaign,” said Steinberg. “It’s really difficult to determine what’s going to make a difference and what’s not. But one of the things that did distinguish [Weiner’s] scandal from others that made it become such fodder for sensationalism is you did have his name and actual pictures. This idea of sexting is new, especially to older voters. It seemed not only wrong but deviant.”

WEINER takes a closer look at our politics today. We live in a time driven by entertainment and an appetite for spectacle.

“We think it has some real relevance with what’s happening with Trump,” said Steinberg. “A lot of people look at Trump and are marveling at the fact that he seems to be getting away with a lot of things that would have been disqualifying in the past. At the same time, there are a lot of questions of whether or not the media is responsible for making him what he is,” added Kriegman.

In a lot of ways Trump’s story parallels Weiner’s, in terms of how they both play to the realities of modern media so successfully.

However, in Weiner’s story, you see that there is a limit.

“There’s a limit to how much media can help,” said Kriegman. “There is such a thing as bad coverage and [Weiner] arrived at that point. His exposure really was too much.”

It’s definitely a new media world and it’s something that many celebrities, important figures and people wrestle with on a daily basis.

The film and Weiner’s story will help viewers think before they write that status or post that picture and open their eyes to how crucial one mistake really can be.

WEINER is currently playing at The Magnolia Theatre in Dallas.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.