Knock Down the House
|Knock Down the House|
|Directed by||Rachel Lears|
|Edited by||Robin Blotnick|
|Music by||Ryan Blotnick|
Knock Down the House is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Rachel Lears. It revolves around the 2018 congressional primary campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin, four progressive Democrats endorsed by Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress who ran in that year's midterm elections.
The film follows four female Democrats who decided to run for Congress in the 2018 United States elections: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Amy Vilela of Nevada, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia. The film charts their campaigns in their respective Democratic primaries. The four candidates each run grassroots campaigns against long-time incumbents. Vilela, Bush, and Swearengin lost their primary elections, but Ocasio-Cortez won her primary and went on to win the general election. (Two years later, during the next Congressional election cycle, Bush went on to win her primary and the general election in Missouri's 1st congressional district, and Swearengin was the Democratic nominee for West Virginia's Senate race, where she lost to the incumbent by over 40 points.)
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York's 14th congressional district)
- Amy Vilela (Nevada's 4th congressional district)
- Cori Bush (Missouri's 1st congressional district)
- Paula Jean Swearengin (United States Senate – West Virginia, Class 1)
The day after Donald Trump's election, Rachel Lears began working on her new documentary film. She reached out to organizations such as Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats to find "charismatic female candidates who weren't career politicians, but had become newly galvanized to represent their communities." The search led her to four female candidates: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Amy Vilela of Nevada, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia. Lears raised $28,111 for the project through Kickstarter.
The film had its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2019. Shortly after, Netflix acquired distribution rights to the film for $10 million. The film was also screened at the True/False Film Festival, the Athena Film Festival, the South by Southwest, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. It was released on May 1, 2019. It was uploaded to YouTube by Netflix on April 17, 2020.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating from critics of 99% based on 103 reviews, with an average rating of 7.70/10, and a user approval rating of 10% based on over 8000 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "A galvanizing glimpse behind the scenes of a pivotal election, Knock Down the House should prove engrossing for viewers of all political persuasions." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 80 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Kate Erbland of IndieWire gave the film a grade of B, saying, "Stylistically, the film isn't at all fussy: on-screen graphics are straightforward and informative, and Lears leaves the editorializing out of her introductory captions, though the film's score often proves manipulative during the most unnecessary of times." Amy Nicholson of Variety wrote, "That Lears and co-writer Robin Blotnick made a real movie with intelligent camerawork and storytelling on a budget so small that they each pulled double duty as DP and editor, respectively, is a tribute to the energy of every woman who pledged that in 2018 they would make a difference." Leslie Felperin of The Hollywood Reporter called it "a pretty extraordinary cinematic artifact." Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, saying, "While this is not Frederick Wiseman-esque pure 'direct cinema' there are enough sequences that lean into that fly-on-the-wall type of film-making." Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com gave the film 3 out of 4 stars and described it as "a worthwhile reminder for American citizens of the importance of making one's voice heard." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, wrote, "The fighting spirit of this female quartet blazes through every frame of this galvanizing film." Richard Roeper of Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, calling it "stirring and inspirational".
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|Sundance Film Festival||February 2, 2019||U.S. Documentary Audience Award||Knock Down the House||Won|||
|Festival Favorite Award||Knock Down the House||Won|
|Critics' Choice Documentary Awards||November 10, 2019||Best Documentary||Knock Down the House||Nominated|||
|Best Political Documentary||Knock Down the House||Nominated|
|Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary||Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin||Won|
|Cinema Eye Honors||January 6, 2020||Audience Choice Prize||Knock Down the House||Nominated|||
|The Unforgettables||Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez||Won|
|Black Reel Awards||February 6, 2020||Outstanding Documentary||Knock Down the House||Nominated|||
- Surge (2020 American film) – a similarly themed documentary about women running for Congress in the 2018 United States elections
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