Review: PACmen / Ethan

Super-PACs, short for super political action committees, often feature prominently in discussions about money in politics in the United States. These organisations are often credited as instrumental in the election of candidates at every level of government and accused of subverting the will of the majority in favour of the rich. While many have strong opinions about the outcomes that Super-PACs achieve, there’s very little to reference in finding out how they actually operate. PACmen seeks to change that.

The film revolves around the observations of British-Australian filmmaker, Luke Walker, who somehow got access to two key Super-PACs supporting Dr Ben Carson’s 2016 Presidential campaign named ‘2016 Committee’ and ‘Extraordinary America’. There is no visible political agenda in the content here, just a clear cut, chronological document of the machinery behind a campaign for President of the United States.

The candidate ultimately is not the focus, it’s the machinery behind him that the film seeks to reveal. Carson was simply a vessel that these Super-PACs used to gain power and if Walker observed any other of these organisations at the time, a similar film would have come out of it. As an observer of the campaign from the outside, it was personally very interesting to gain a new perspective on it’s downfall. One key, somewhat obvious, message from the film is that the people, media, and money all needs to be on your side to run a successful campaign, none of which was for Dr Carson.

While the big picture message is what the viewer will walk away with, it’s surprisingly engaging character-driven documentary at times. The people that make up the different levels of these organisations have incredibly interesting interactions with each other. The chairman of the committees toil away at their own campaigning by making phone calls and advertisements for rich donors who will sustain their machine. Meanwhile, the foot soldiers are handing out flyers and knocking on doors encouraging people to vote for their candidate. The way all these individuals communicate with each other and conduct themselves throughout their activities paints a picture not just of the culture of Super-PACs, but that of a large part of conservative America. It’s a curious and volatile mix of faith, money, and politics which doesn’t always achieve it’s goal, but will work as if their survival depended on it.

Both of the vaguely named, money-conscious Super-PACs fit the stereotypical image of a faithful, conservative group, but the end of the film saw a very strange, yet revealing, transformation. As soon as the potential for power moved somewhere else (*cough* Donald Trump *cough*), they were like moths to a flame.

They often worked independently of their candidate. In fact, the last 10 minutes of the film documents the very strange shift from a presidential to vice-presidential campaign, which Carson himself has to end. At the end of the day, what they do seems to be an exercise of self-interest for the PACmen, fueled by delusions of grandeur.

It’s hard to critique the production of the film itself because it’s so barebones. This is as pure a picture as one will find on this topic. Some of the music cues are a bit dramatic and goofy at times, but it hardly takes away from the film. If you have any interest whatsoever on the issue of money in politics, this is absolutely worth a watch.

PACmen screened at the Sydney Film Festival.

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