Jude Perry, Contributor.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but they are not entitled to their own facts,” those were the words of the then U.S Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting of the United Nations security council in which he accused Russia of living in “a parallel universe” over the breakdown of the Syrian cease fire in September 2016. ‘The Final Year’ directed and produced by Greg Baker offers an up close and personal account of the final year of Obama’s Presidency. The 90-minute documentary follows U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, former United States Ambassador to the U.N Samantha Power and also Obama’s former Communications Advisor Ben Rhodes as they tour the world with the aim of fulfilling Obama’s foreign policy objectives. It chronicled the administrations rush to “get things done” and also “define their legacy” in their final year in power. Baker and his crew followed the President and his team on over 20 foreign trips and shot over 1000 hours of footage. The final film was cut to just under 100 minutes. It shows the administrations perusal of the Iran Nuclear agreement, improved relations with Cuba and also Obama’s historic speech in Hiroshima, however the film’s main focus and the film’s primary source of emotion was based on the administration’s attempt to curb the bloodshed in Syria.
The scenes which gives us an insight into former ambassador Samantha Power are perhaps the most intimate, the reason that the creators received such unfettered access to the workings of the West Wing was due to the close relationship between Power’s and the film’s Director Greg Baker. Many members of the press core resented the access given to the crew. There is a poignant scene midway throughout the film in which Power’s is presenting certificates of citizenship to immigrants to the U.S. She speaks of her own journey, Power’s herself immigrated to the United States from Ireland when she was nine. When Power’s is explaining to the crowd that one of the people she is presenting the citizenship to is the child minder of her children, she breaks mid-sentence to hold in the tears, she is overwhelmed by the journey these immigrants have taken and the hardships the have fought to be where they are today.
This film effectively and intuitively plays at the heart strings of the viewers, we often see Power become tearful when visiting villages in impoverished nations. During “The Final Year” we see Power’s visit Cameroon in April of 2016 on a trip to the villages affected by the terrorist group Boko Haram, during her trip one of the cars in her motorcade hits and kills a Cameroonian child playing on the road. Power’s explains to the camera that she went to the child’s parents to tell them of the tragic accident. “The Final Year” shows Power’s struggle to comprehend the immense human suffering taking place around the world and also her frustration at other’s lack of empathy towards their suffering, namely Russia. We often see Power’s children throughout the film, a very moving scene and one that epitomizes innocence is when Power’s daughter points to Nigeria on the globe in her office and asks her mother “are they crying” to which Power, sorrowfully replies “yes they probably are.”
Watching this film now, after a year of the current administration, you can’t help but compare the composure and professionalism of the likes of Power and Kerry, who were experts on diplomacy and foreign affairs, Power being a Professor at Harvard before working with Obama, with the seemingly amateurish and incoherent foreign policy being pursued by the current administration. The constant theme of the film and something John Kerry mentions throughout is the desire to pursue a less militarized form of diplomacy. It is clear that Obama’s team favoured dialogue over hard power, this was evident in their rekindling of Cuba – US relations, something the current administration have gone to great lengths to undo. However, ‘The Final Year’ is not just 90 minutes of foreign policy jargon that someone unfamiliar with diplomatic terms would struggle to understand. It offers a glimpse at the critical issues facing not only the United States but the world, John Kerry visiting Greenland for example and viewing the clear impacts of climate change on the polar ice caps. We also see the emotional impact that improved foreign policy can have on individuals, there is a moving scene when a Japanese veteran tearfully embraces Obama following his historic speech at Hiroshima.
However, the shadow of Donald Trump looms large over ‘The Final Year.’ We see Samantha Power host an election night party at the white house with the first woman Secretary of State Madelaine Albright. When the party commences and before any results have came in, Power’s gleefully exclaims “tonight we are going to break the glass ceiling.” However, these scenes of glee are quickly replaced with anguish as a Donald Trump victory became clear. Similarly, we see Ben Rhodes unable to say any words to the camera when asked what were his thoughts at Donald Trump’s victory. ‘The Final Year’ shows just how unprepared Obama’s team and the Washington establishment were in the case of a Donald Trump victory in 2016.
To think, the next journalist to get such unrestricted access to the West Wing would go onto write a ground breaking book entitled ‘Fire and Fury,’ a book that instead of accounting the President’s strides to improve issues such as climate change and the displacement of people, (as ‘The Final Year’ did), would instead chronicle another President’s desire to be in bed at 6:30 PM with a cheese burger.
Overall, ‘The Final Year’ offers an intriguing and personal insight into some of the most powerful jobs on the planet. It does have a somewhat melancholy feel but it does give one a greater appreciation for the work that people do in government and the personal highs and lows that these people go through. Although Power does remind us that the occupants of these high offices are just passing through.
Director and Producer: Greg Baker.
Running Time: 90 minutes.