Watching the 2016 presidential election play out, Oscar-nominated documentarian Liz Garbus was as surprised as anyone by the outcome, as Republican candidate Donald Trump took a surprise victory over Hillary Clinton.
“All the predictors were telling us it was going to turn out one way, and it turned out another, and I think there was a moment in which storytellers were figuring out, what is our role in this new political landscape?” Garbus said in conversation with Deadline, “Do we have one, and how should we use it?”
This question would become the seed of Garbus’ Showtime docuseries The Fourth Estate, in which the filmmaker offers an inside look at The New York Times‘ efforts to cover the first year of Trump’s presidency, with unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to NYT journalists and editors—those individuals the President has declared “the enemy of the people.”
Becoming “addicted” to Twitter throughout this past election cycle, Garbus’ decision to frame her series around The New York Times emerged from watching an early Twitter feud between the Times and the President, as he canceled and uncanceled a meeting with reporters, airing his grievances online for all to see. “At that moment, it occurred to me, it would be great to be a fly on the wall,” Garbus said, appearing in Tribeca with producer Justin Wilkes and co-director Jenny Carchman. “As the punching bag for Trump 1.0, Hillary [Clinton], was no longer his opponent, it seemed… the press now was his opponent. That was a great protagonist and antagonist for a great drama, and that’s where it all started.”
Speaking about her series, Garbus was quick to clarify one point—as a documentary filmmaker, she wouldn’t categorize herself as a journalist.
“Journalists occupy a very unique and specific role in our society, and they are called The Fourth Estate for a reason. Finding truth and reporting it, and sunlight and transparency is essential to a working democracy,” she said. “As documentary filmmakers, sometimes we do investigative journalism in our docs, and sometimes we tell stories. We just learned last night that Trump and [former FBI Director James] Comey were talking about imprisoning journalists, so I think that the role that they play is actually very unique and very threatened, and I wouldn’t pretend that we experience the same level of peril at this time.”
To view Deadline’s conversation with Garbus, click above.