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Totally Under Control: Alex Gibney takes stock of Trump’s response to Covid

15 October, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Directed by Alex Gibney
Certificate: 12a

The artistic, academic, literature and film created by the Great Depression filtered into the public realm throughout the 1930s. Academia and culture took stock and then reacted to what collectively we were experiencing as the decade wore on.

Today, as we are still in the midst of a similar global catastrophe via the Covid pandemic paired with the climate crisis, film-makers are responding. Two documentaries out this week consider the Trump administration’s response to Covid, while another is a up-close look at the life of climate crisis campaigner Greta Thunberg.

In Totally Under Control, legendary doc film-maker Alex Gibney, whose authoritative investigations have previously included topics such as torture and the Iraq War, the fall of Enron, Wikileaks and Russia, considers the past 10 months and the USA’s response to Covid. It is unsurprisingly galling: the multiple errors made sadly mimic what we in the UK have experienced.

Gibney compares the response of the USA to that of South Korea, who put policy-making in the hands of public health officials – and then looks at how various USA public health institutes and bodies faced an ideologically-driven layer of politician-appointed bureaucrats who either played down the pandemic or sought to limit the state’s role in tackling it. South Korea’s response shows that together we can tackle such threats – but divided we are bound to fail.

We are walked through the early signs and how health officials reacted, waving red flags at anyone who would listen. Then Gibney talks of how test and trace systems failed, of how the Trump administration at best ignored advice and even blocked a German-designed test early on in the outbreak for no apparent reason – when the country needed millions as quickly as they could.

Hearing those whose responsibility it was to tackle the threat of pandemics explain what went wrong is heartbreaking: they knew what was needed, but due to what must be criminal negligence, their warnings were not acted on. A timely, well made and deeply depressing watch.


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