As “Meet The Press” unveils their slate of documentaries for the sixth annual Meet The Press Film Festival at DOC NYC, Chuck Todd has embraced highlighting films boiling political tensions to bring a new understanding to these issues outside of the red blue prism.
“If you run towards the controversy, you can break a barrier,” Todd told TheWrap ahead of the festival’s debut. “Make the people three-dimensional figures so they’re not treated like two-dimensional political props.”
This year’s festival, which is set in New York for the first time, spotlights short documentaries that dive deep into global migration, equality in sports, civil and gender rights, and racism in the criminal justice system — issues that heavily drove voters to the polls in last week’s midterm election. As results continue to come in, Todd imagines the election’s aftermath might enhance, or even shift, audience’s understanding of a film.
“When you see the public react the way they react to the current political climate, your own interpretation of watching some of these subject matters may change more than you realize,” Todd said.
As “Dear Noah: Pages from a Family Diary,” which depicts a family’s move from Texas to protect their transgender teenage, makes its world premiere at the festival, Todd celebrates the life-affirming humanity at the center of the slated films.
“A good documentarian brings some humanity to the person; that is the centerpiece of the story, and in that humanity, makes you understand the second side of the story,” Todd said. “We’ve seen how much particularly the transgender community has been weaponized in our political dialogue and [the film displays] the impact is on this family that does nothing but love each other.”
Though “Dear Noah” adds to the list of topics Todd would have loved to dive deep into during “Meet The Press,” he admits the show’s format might prime viewers for a political conversation, rather than an emotional journey.
“I can cover this story in ‘Meet The Press,’ and no matter how much warmth I give it, it’s in the frame of ‘Meet The Press,'” Todd said. “In a documentary like ‘Dear Noah,’ you’re seeing it hopefully not as a political audience, but … as a human being, as a father or mother yourself.”
Similarly, the festival also gives voice to two sports documentaries that spotlight overlooked communities, including “38 at the Garden,” which tells the story of Jeremy Lin as he shot to basketball royalty through the wave of “linsanity,” as well as “Deerfoot of the Diamond,” a film that uncovers the legacy of Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play professional baseball.
Though Lin’s journey was “a huge reporting moment for the Asian American community” at the time, as the community combatted stereotyping in sports world, the festival hopes to resurface the story in the midst of anti-Asian hate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While each of the slated films tugs at a larger thread of showcasing barriers broken by underserved communities — and how much backlash has come with it — the festival “crowdsources the most interesting stories that need to be told that maybe haven’t been told” both by returning to well-explored subjects with relevance to today as well as uncovering new stories.
“Maybe a sports fan watches it that had no idea of sort of the institutionalized racism against Asian Americans that had been systemic in this country for decades,” Todd said of the Jeremy Lin documentary. “Maybe they come for the basketball, and they stay for the education.”
While Todd views the documentary format as more equipped to underscore messages of humanity than “Meet The Press,” the festival shares core values with the show, including educating and engaging audiences with perhaps unfamiliar angles to a topic.
“When I first took the job at ‘Meet The Press’ … I found that the number one reason people watch Sunday shows is simply be educated,” Todd said. “At the end of day, I’m not telling people how to think, [or] what to think, but we’re trying to provide them with more nuance and more information.”
Instead of examining the films through the “red-blue prism,” the festival hosts conversations with filmmakers and NBC journalists, including Todd, that provide well-researched and thorough materials that enable viewers to digest the information and spark their own thoughts.
Founded as a way to mark the 70th anniversary of “Meet The Press,” Todd and the rest of the team decided to highlight the striking journalism taking place within 40 minute or less documentaries — an area that Todd identifies as this generation’s long-form journalism that will replace magazine pieces.
“It was pretty clear that there was an explosion here,” Todd said. “This is something that I think had we not done it would have come to us, but we would have been late to the game. So I’m happy that we got here a little bit early.”