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How a Film Captured Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Triumph, ‘Ugly Crying’ and All

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

She agreed to let a filmmaker tail her even before she filed her paperwork to run — even before she had decided to run, really — because she wanted to document how to organize an insurgent campaign, she said, especially as a working-class person. That sentiment was echoed by the other candidates: Cori Bush of St. Louis; Amy Vilela of Las Vegas; and Paula Jean Swearengin, from Coal City, W.Va. “I felt that we had to stop reinventing the wheel every single time a normal person decided to run for office,” Ocasio-Cortez said, “and make it accessible, so we can learn and iterate. Our democracy is supposed to belong to everyday people.”

For Rachel Lears, who directed and shot the movie, co-written with her husband, Robin Blotnick, who also edited it, it was a boots-on-the-ground investigation of how to change political power. “I hope that this story does push people to think about participating in different ways,” Lears, 41, said.

She approached the progressive organizations Brand New Congress and, later, Justice Democrats, which were recruiting novice candidates; she interviewed two dozen of them, she said, including some men, before settling on the four women, because she thought that win or lose, they’d be compelling to watch. “They all had very personal reasons for what they were doing,” she said, catapulting themselves into politics out of family tragedy, economic hardship, environmental anguish or a quest for social justice. Their geographic diversity, gender and race — in what became a historic midterm for women and people of color — was meant to illustrate “a group that would make a national movement,” Lears said.

Still, said Blotnick, “we were totally prepared for all four candidates to lose.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s story became the movie’s spine, in part because the couple was also based in New York — their shoestring budget didn’t allow them to travel to the other candidates as much. (They filmed for a year before getting outside financing, via Kickstarter; only after Ocasio-Cortez won her primary in June 2018 did they feel confident about securing industry backing.) Their son, now 3, also accompanied them on the road. “We didn’t have child care, so that was my job,” Blotnick, 39, said.


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