While covering highlights of the Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival CPH:DOX, one film we set our sights on was ‘A Storm Foretold.’ The film, which seemed to go behind the scenes in America following the aftermath of Trump becoming President in 2016 and the lead up to the controversial 2020 elections, which saw the attack on the Capitol shortly afterwards.
After CPH:DOX came to a close, Alex got to speak with the film’s Danish director Christoffer Guldbrandsen and the videographer Frederik Marbell.
Asking how successful they felt the film had been after it previewed at the festival, the answer is clear as they explain that they subsequently had 60 screenings planned across Denmark, and the film has been picked up by Nordisk Film distribution – which is a great start!
We aksed Christoffer how the audience reactions have been to the film, and scratching his chin he says: “Well, we don’t know because, you know, people are polite, so we only get positive reactions.”
We certainly see why people react positively to the way Christoffer has crafted his documentary. He managed to capture astonishing footage of its main subject, Roger Stone, who has been an aide and close ally to Donald Trump during his time running for president, and was a flamboyant character in US politics at the time. There is also a deeply personal story from the director woven in, and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the days surrounding the 2020 elections and Capitol riots.
Any negative reactions may be stirred by some of the uncomfortable language, opinions and attitudes on display in the film; but the documentary aims to purely be a platform to show what happened, the characters involved, and not pass judgement.
We wonder how on earth the film’s director and videographer crossed paths with Roger Stone, such a figure of power in American politics, and how they became so involved as to be able to infiltrate this circle?
“I think we felt pretty much like everyone else when Trump won the election in 2016. That everything had turned unpredictable and kind of scary. We wanted just to get into the fray and be part of that to try and understand the changes that were going on. Particularly because, historically, the US has kind of been one step ahead of other modern democracies in terms of of changes and development“, the director explained.
“So maybe we could see what was going to hit Europe later by looking into this. So, we approached it from all sides and we had all kinds of ideas that we tried out, and then we ended up, pretty much by chance, with Stone.”
The team had ended up interviewing Roger Stone for a broader systemic idea that they had, and things went from there – but not in the way that they had planned: “He got arrested, so that developed into a story. We didn’t know what we were doing until we had finished the film because everything changed and changed and changed again“.
The footage and moments Christoffer and the team would end up catching will blow your mind – with it all leading to the Capitol Riots in Washington. There must have been moments when the director had to be pinching himself to see whether this was all real and really happening in front of him.
“I mean, when you work, this film is pretty much a fly on the wall observational documentary. I think normally it’s not that difficult to predict situations that are going to occur. You simply observe people and you have to pay attention. And then you can pretty much predict and be at the right place to structure your story. But here it was really weird because they said what they were going to do. It was reported and so on, but we didn’t really believe it, so we weren’t prepared…
Even though they had said this was the revolution. They were going to overturn the election. We just thought it was bullshit and bravado. But they actually announced that. And all we could do when we were in the middle of all this chaos was like, strap the helmet. Hang in there and try not to get distracted too much.”
Fredrik adds; “It’s really nice you try to analyze as you go through the process to see where it’s taking you but that was just tremendously difficult in this situation because you could not take anything at face value. The validity of what people were saying and their real intentions was extremely difficult to navigate.“
Christoffer explains the challenges of making an observational documentary; how, as humans, we have such a delicate sensory skill to know when people are acting up or being authentic; “But that’s only the emotional side of it. Then there’s, of course, the messaging side of it.”
These days documentaries have a tendency to be very categorical – that is, how they can perhaps vie for people’s attention. In filmmaking when you enter the political arena the approach is the same but the director was very cautious in going down that road.
“Our ambition was to make a film that made the audience think and make up their own mind and draw their own conclusions. We hope we have achieved that.”
This is where A Storm Foretold excels – there is no constant narration which could portray the wrong insights into particular moments. Instead the scenes tell their own stories and allow you to draw your own conclusions. The team had tested the idea of having a narration throughout, the temptation was ‘tremendous’, but they felt that this would underestimate their audience.
There are genuine moments throughout the film where one would think, how would other documentation’s react. Louis Theroux is one name that pops to mind – would he have called up Stone on some of his wild moments in the film? Where people’s Theroux would delve, ask why he might be angry for example, here Guldmansen just lets the anger unfold in front of you – there is no opportunity for the subject to then be given a platform to elaborate. As we eventually realise by the end of the film, there is no need – Roger Stone will share exactly how he feels.
Discussing this film with Christoffer and Fredrik could go on for hours – the footage and film they have created throws those unfamiliar with this world into a fascinating and terrifying study of American politics and pulls back the curtain, as far as one call pull it, to reveal the people pulling the strings.
A Storm Foretold is already causing a…storm since its release on the documentary film circuit, and footage from the documentary has even be used in a court hearing investigating the Jan 6 Capitol riots. If you get the chance to see it, we urge you to, and will update you on where and when it will be available as soon as we know. Follow our social channels for updates.