Imminent Threat is a supercut of interviews and clips designed to bring awareness of how much power the U.S. government has co-opted since the 9/11/2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center. The documentary is less a new creation than a compilation of sound bites from existing news reports and other material. The heroes and villains featured in the clips scroll off the page, from Goldwater to McGovern to Cheney. It’s a Forest Gump-level recap of decades of the American political scrum.
Director Janek Ambros doesn’t chart any particular path to a structured thesis in the film. Rather he carpet bombs the viewer with images of war and the constitution in flames. There are callbacks to McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee. He also highlights some very strange bedfellows in the pushback against the loss of civil liberties when the extreme idealists of the political far-right and left banded together, united by a perceived common enemy.
The editing style is familiar: quick snippets of interviews, claustrophobic close-ups of people delivering dire and urgent information, all intercut with scenes of violence and war. The ominous soundtrack is shaped to create anxiety in the viewer, and it’s quite effective. In addition, there are segments on how military drones work, a discussion of the War Powers Act, and lengthy monologues by Edward Snowden. He famously leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. As of 2020, Snowden was granted permanent citizenship in Russia.
“…supercut of interviews and clips designed to bring awareness of how much power the U.S. government has co-opted since the 9/11/2001 terror attack…”
When considering this coarsely made film, context is everything. Imminent Threat was released in 2015. It reminds us, 14 years after the events of 9/11, that the government aggressively seized power in the name of expedient action against terrorism through the Patriot Act and many other, more subtle forms of infringement. It is informative and should cause us to pause and consider whether losing those liberties was worth the illusion of security we have now. This works, despite the grating propaganda style of delivery.
A crucial fact, when assessing the filmmakers’ motives, is that the executive producer is beloved actor James Cromwell. The man gave us Farmer Hoggett in Babe and did a fine turn as Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact, among other great performances. Cromwell is a well-known animal rights activist and ardent supporter of the progressive left. He campaigned for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. To fully understand the ideas presented here, it’s useful to know Ambros’ passions as well. His works tend to focus on topics such as the rise of fascism in the West, human rights, classicism, and American imperialism (according to his IMDB bio). Knowing all this clarifies the focus of the film. Interestingly, it could as easily have come from the far-right, delivering the same message, though it’d have a very different context and conclusion.
Imminent Threat was made pre-covid pandemic before any discussion of mask or vaccine mandates. That’s an important note to keep in mind while watching, as one is immediately put on notice that this is about individual freedoms. During the pandemic, that line of inquiry has taken on a different tone and become the rallying cry of an insane pushback against temporary measures put in place for public safety. These minor inconveniences have been weaponized by cynical Trump-era operatives, who are also, ironically, bent on a massive power grab.
The film aims to highlight how far the government has gone in impacting personal freedom and ring a warning bell that even some of the power players seen as progressive and populist, like President Obama, contributed to that erosion of privacy and freedoms of American citizens. This is all well and good, despite the grating delivery. Nevertheless, Imminent Threat is a fascinating artifact worth revisiting for its message and to study the particular style of delivery employed.
"…a fascinating artifact worth revisiting for its message..."