Screenings and Venues:
Saturday April 22, 3:30pm, Sunday April 23, 6:45pm
Tuesday April 25, 8:45pm, Wednesday April 26, 6:45pm
at Cinépolis Chelsea

Section: Documentary Competition


The title “The Greatest Show on Earth” is most attributed to the soon-to-be defunct Ringling Bros – Barnum & Bailey Circus, and cinematically to the 1952 Cecille B. De Mille film of the same name about said circus. But if De Mille lived to experience the Ronald Reagan presidency, he may have retroactively changed the title of his classic film.

Told entirely through archival footage, the new documentary The Reagan Show is about the prolific actor’s defining role: Leader of the Free World. Using the backdrop of The Cold War, the film uses the Reagan administration’s intense, and prescient, internal documentation using advanced 1980’s video equipment to capture the United States’ height as a world power, through spectacle and manipulation.

And the way the administration went about it was brilliant, and equally scary.  

Knowing not to rely on the news networks to tell their point of view, so through an impartial party, The White House’s public relations department used their performer president’s primary skills (no, not diplomacy) to craft shrewd narratives of American life and power, and of an effective presidency.  With this, the White House Television Office crew made everything from Reagan’s strong cowboy imagery evoking ‘law & order’, to the “Just Say No” drug campaign, to their devious ‘Star Wars’ scare tactics of Russian nuclear war battles, to manipulatively fill the world-at-large with fear.    

Yes, we felt the manipulation then, much like co-director Sierra Pettengill did as a baby, first encountering Reagan, “through my mother’s infuriated yelling at the TV,” but the hindsight thirty years allows us defines the manipulation, and the scary similarities that other U.S. presidents employed since then.


2/4/1983 President Reagan Nancy Reagan and David Gergen at a Press Briefing in the Press Room during a surprise Birthday Party in honor of President Reagan’s 71st birthday


What Pettengill and her co-director Pacho Velez have gifted to us, using that mostly unseen White House born footage together with broadcast news and Hollywood films, and zero contemporary interviews, is their own uncanny Cold War narrative that will force viewers to question everything they think they know about what they see.  Of course, you should have been doing so already.  

Imbued with an aesthetic that crosses 2011’s The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 documentary and Pablo Larrain’s ¾” Umatic video shot narrative film No, in which an ad executive (Gael Garcia Bernal) comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum, The Reagan Show starts 2017 off with one of the year’s must-see documentaries.


BaL Festival Rating: 5/5

Directors: Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill
Genre: Documentary
Country: USA
Runtime: 75 min.

The 2017 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 19 – 30 in New York City
Follow Film & TV Editor Curtis Caesar John on Twitter (@MediaManCurt)

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About The Author

Curtis Caesar John is the Film Editor for Bold As Love Magazine. He also covers film and culture for Limité Magazine as well as for Shadow And Act, for which he created the regular feature ‘This Week in Black Television.’ He is born, raised and resides in Brooklyn, NY, of course. Follow him on Twitter at @MediaManCurt.

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