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article imageReview: Hot Docs’ ‘PACmen’ expands on craziness of the 2016 US election Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 1, 2017 in Entertainment
In a Hot Docs program called “Democrazy”, ‘PACmen’ explores the political influences and blunders of American political action committees during the recent election.
The American electoral system is a strange beast with many influencing heads. The system itself is questionably multi-tiered, while it seems an unknown number of external groups can also attempt to sway the vote in their desired direction. In 2010, two Supreme Court decisions led to the creation of the political action committee (PAC), which made it legal for these entities to engage in unlimited political spending as long they did not make contributions to candidate campaigns or parties. Unlike traditional PACs, a super PAC can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups without any legal limit on donation size. In 2015, PACmen became the first film to go behind the curtain of one of these groups.
After a stirring speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, pediatric neurosurgeon and bestselling author Dr. Ben Carson entered the political consciousness. In 2015 he announced his bid to become the Republican presidential candidate for the 2016 election. In spite of his inexperience, super PAC leaders thought he would be able to save the party and convinced him to run. Armed with copies of the TV-movie of his life, and the powers of phone and internet prayer teams, these groups set forth with one goal in mind: make Carson the next president. However, in spite of a strong start, his greenness and repeated public gaffes would gradually make fundraising incredibly difficult and lead to his concession less than a year later.
Super PACs appear to consist of a few powerbrokers — in this case John Philip Sousa IV and friends — who choose a horse they want to win the race, then surround themselves with hundreds or thousands of hard-core believers to do the grunt work of calling, fundraising and recruiting. Millions of dollars are raised and no one really sees where it goes outside of a few commercials, some offices and promotional items. However, and perhaps more importantly, it steadily becomes clear no one did their homework on Carson before deciding he’d be the country’s next president… and then vice-president. As his campaign tanks, they continue to solicit six- and seven-figure donations to try and raise him out of the mire in spite of his clear incompetence. In addition to depicting the inner-workings of a super PAC, director Luke Walker captures how the Christian conservative right were fleeced and divided by ill-suited Republican candidates.
The world premiere of PACmen is screening as part of the “Democrazy” program at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.
Director: Luke Walker
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