There’s little as frustrating as a well-intentioned movie that fails to grab the viewer’s attention. On paper, Jon D. Erickson and Jacob Smith’s Waking The Sleeping Giant: The Making Of A Political Revolution, obtuse title notwithstanding, sounds like a slamdunk. The directors, who also wrote the documentary, examine Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and how it shifted political discourse and tie it into the protests and demand for reform the U.S. of A. is seeing now. That is rife with so many pathways for a deep-rooted examination of people who felt unseen by the government and why, that the end result is so shallow is a bit mind-boggling.
Waking The Sleeping Giant: The Making Of A Political Revolution interviews campaign workers, protest organizers, voters, and of course, politicians to get a sense of the social and political climate just before, during, and after Sanders 2016 run. It’s not too surprising that the filmmakers got so many people on board – people such as Van Jones, Amy Goodman, organizer Elise Whitaker, and Democracy Spring co-founder Mai Newkirk, among others – as Smith was the environmental policy advisor on the Sanders campaign.
They also follow local races, specifically Sabrina Shrader, who felt the call to try and help her small town by running for office. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the family of a woman who died in police custody seeks answers and justice. Through these two subplots, Erickson and Smith highlight the changes in discourse and society’s wish for reform, and they prove to be the most interesting aspects of the film. However, they aren’t in it enough to truly raise the material to the next level.
“…interviews campaign workers, protest organizers, voters, and of course, politicians to get a sense of the social and political climate…”
The movie’s problem is that it never probes the systemic issues that led to this protest or that push for higher wages, or whatever it may be. It merely observes Sanders’ speeches, looks at the division in modern politics, and watches the protests unfold. Essentially, the filmmakers created a visual aggregate of the movement Sanders and his campaign galvanized. And for anyone who follows the news, most of this is not new information, meaning a deep dive is required to engage audiences (partially, because any viewer not well-versed in the news of the day is going to bypass this title entirely). But, that is not what happens here.
What’s even more frustrating here is that I am Waking The Sleeping Giant‘s key demographic. There’s nothing here to sway hardline Trump voters, though some Republicans not sold on him in their party, might be. As such, this is a call to arms for independents and liberals. Well, I am a liberal atheist who voted for Obama twice and Clinton in 2016. This movie should resonate and move me to protest, call people to vote, etc. But the standard talking heads and archive footage come across as news, not new. And that’s the greatest crime of all. The wealth of material and civil unrest at their disposal and all Erickson and Smith could come up with was, “Hey, isn’t Sanders awesome?” Yes, that is oversimplifying their statement with Walking The Sleeping Giant, but that is how the movie plays out.
I have seen several engaging political docs from both sides of the aisle, and this is not one of them. Waking The Sleeping Giant: The Making Of A Political Revolution is shallow and simply regurgitates speeches and headlines without getting to the cause of them. This means the movie is boring, so seek out The Fight or One Vote instead. They truly have something to say and do so in a compelling one. Skip this, you’ve literally seen it on the 7 o’clock news.
"…never probes the systemic issues that led to this protest or that push for higher wages..."