Hot Docs 2019 Review: The Edge of Democracy

The Edge of Democracy

8 out of 10

Densely packed with the intricate details surrounding Brazil’s current political nightmare (and, by natural extension and comparison, similar governmental scandals playing out around the world), The Edge of Democracy is a lot to take in during a single sitting, but also one of the most vital and cautionary documentaries of the year.

Director Petra Costa (Elena) embedded herself alongside former and once beloved Brazilian President Lula da Silva and his handpicked 2010 successor Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first female leader. The country’s democracy was still in its infancy when da Silva, a former labour activist and freedom fighter, was elected in 2002, and the country was still finding its footing after the dissolution of its military led dictatorship in 1985. Under da Silva and Rousseff, economic prosperity was at an all time high and unemployment reached record lows. Brazil became the eighth largest economy in the world, and da Silva’s approval rating once reached an unheard of 80%. But the compromises and alliances that da Silva and Rousseff had to make with their conservative counterparts to ensure their elections led to a souring in 2013, when a right wing investigation – dubbed Operation Car Wash – linked da Silva and Rousseff (via accounting errors, the importance of which were greatly exaggerated) to charges of using preferred contractors in the construction and maintenance of the country’s newfound and highly profitable oil wells. Things spiralled out of control in a hurry from there, with the emboldened Brazilian right seizing control of the country’s highest office, shaming Rousseff in the public eye and attempting to arrest da Silva.

Those unfamiliar with Brazil’s unique and faulty political structure (one where supposedly impartial judges are allowed to act like detectives and prosecutors) might find the early going of The Edge of Democracy more than a little bit overwhelming. But once Costa skillfully guides viewers through the intricacies and necessary details, The Edge of Democracy becomes fascinating and frightful. While Brazil might have a different set of democratic rules, the scandal and media spin employed to push Rousseff and da Silva out of power plays out similarly in countries around the world today. It’s hard to watch the film in Canada today and not think about links to the current SNC-Lavalin affair. Costa’s work here is one of the finest and most empathetic examples of a filmmaker illustrating how a political smokeshow can be created by powerful people and turn the most trivial of transgressions into fervent panics simply by shouting as loudly as possible. The Edge of Democracy might be one of the most frightening and depressing documentaries of the year.

Thursday, April 25, 2019 – 5:00 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Friday, April 26, 2019 – 12:30 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Saturday, May 4, 2019 – 1:15 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Andrew Parker
Andrew Parker fell in love with film growing up across the street from a movie theatre. He began writing professionally about film at the age of fourteen, and has been following his passions ever since. His writing has been showcased at various online outlets, as well as in The Globe and Mail, BeatRoute, and NOW Magazine. If he's not watching something or reading something, he's probably sleeping.

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