I’ve thought a lot about White Noise since I saw the film at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) in 2020. What struck me about Daniel Lombroso‘s documentary about three famous alt-right individuals – Lauren Spencer, Mike Cernovich, Richard Spencer – is how entirely ordinary and existentially conflicted they are behind closed doors. It’s a contrast to their public image that reveals how we never quite know who in our midst could also be operating on a dangerous platform – they’ve perfectly understood how to sell an idea to similar people lost in the world. But that idea, infused with racism and misogyny, has caused very real harm, not least the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville back in 2017, the event that convinced the filmmaker’s team at The Atlantic magazine that they should pursue a feature film.
Curious to understand how an investigative filmmaker – a Jewish one, no less – remained embedded in the lives of three venomous figures for many years to make a cinematic exposé, I sought out Daniel for an interview. He provided a ton of insight in a long discussion about the film from its inception, to what surprised him the most, uncomfortable moments during production, the rise of nationalism worldwide, being inspired by fellow documentarian Lauren Greenfield, and much more.
Musanna Ahmed for Film Inquiry: How did the journey of White Noise begin for you?
Daniel Lombroso: So I became a staff reporter at The Atlantic magazine right out of school. I pitched coverage of the alt-right which is obviously now in the zeitgeist but, at the time, the group wasn’t well known. Being younger and plugged-in, I noticed all the disgusting racism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia that was bubbling online around the candidacy of Donald Trump. I was about a year and a half into my job at The Atlantic and talked to my editor and asked hey, have you heard about this group? They’re attacking Jewish and Black reporters with particular vitriol and no one is covering it. They gave me space so I started with a short documentary profile about Richard Spencer before he became a household name – now, he’s essentially synonymous with David Duke – when he was being covered as a dapper white nationalist who had rebranded conservatism.
I found that characterisation disingenuous and, in one of my first pieces of coverage, I caught a room full of people breaking out into Nazi salutes. You may remember that clip, it went viral and it’s also used in my film. When I went back to the newsroom, the editor-in-chief Jeff Goldberg said Daniel, this has to go out into the world, this fundamentally reframes the alt-right of not some sort of edgy conservatism but a rebranding of classic white supremacy, nationalism, and Neo-Nazism. That clip caught the world’s attention and from there a feature film organically developed. The magazine knew I was onto something bigger and allowed me to pursue it. Charlottesville happened eight months later, a traumatic and uniquely horrible event in American politics, and The Atlantic knew I had access to these subjects and gave me the permission to go deeper and work on a feature film.
So rather than commissioning you, it was born out of your pre-existing access and knowledge, and The Atlantic agreed for it to be their first feature-length film.
Daniel Lombroso: Exactly. The access was always the sell for us. It was fundamental because the film looks from the vantage point of the movement. It’s the only cinematic document from the inside of the movement looking out. To achieve that and really be in the psychology of these subjects, you have to go in deep and have good access. When they saw I had that, they gave me permission to do a feature. It wasn’t commissioned and, to be honest, the budget wouldn’t have been there to commission, even if it is a long-running magazine.
I know that Cernovich, Southern, and Spencer are all public-facing figures who thrive on the attention and criticise the “fake news media” at every step. But how comfortable were they with this idea of you, a media figure, embedding yourself in their lives for as long as you did for the purpose of making a documentary film?
Daniel Lombroso: I was always transparent that A) I’m a reporter and B) I’m a Jewish reporter. I’m the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, one from Poland and one from Germany, both of who lost a significant amount of family members during the war. Whenever they would ask about me, I would share these details. But somehow I built these unique relationships with them where I was coming in and out of their lives over a few years. To answer your question better, I don’t think they really understood what a vérité feature film is. They move in the YouTube and Twitter-sphere where everything is a quick hit, everything is about finding that one quote, packaging it, injecting it into the news cycle, and watching it go viral. Having this young chipper kid knocking on their door and wanting to hang out was maybe confusing to them.
They didn’t fully grasp the ambition of the film and that the idea was to take them as public figures and to understand them in the private sphere. By capturing them in their mundane – I would even say chillingly mundane – behaviour, you can understand their internal conflicts, how broken and lost they were. I was always straightforward with how I wanted to position the project but when they watched the film, none of them were especially happy with it because they believe themselves to be heroes of their own narratives and the film, being a vérité portrait, is very hands-off and shows to some extent the truth of who they are and what happened. Looking at themselves through this mirror was perhaps more difficult than they imagined it would be.
You mention this idea of capturing their mundane behaviour and my response to the film was indeed shaped by being taken aback by that boring domesticity. You effectively captured this contrast between their outrageous public lives and humdrum private lives, the juxtaposition which I think shows how seemingly ordinary people can become so empowered by such ideas. What was the most surprising thing for you about peering into their domesticity?
Daniel Lombroso: Thank you for the kind words. The most surprising thing was understanding how much their narrative is built upon a lie. What I mean by that is, basically, their public figure is constructed around confidence, strength and being an alpha male. Even for Lauren, a complicated woman, it’s around being a mother and having kids – the beauty of traditional domesticity. All of them are avatars of specific, old school ideas, whether it’s being a man who fights or a woman who makes babies and provides for the home. The public faces of these characters are unshakable and it’s what allows them to recruit: everyone has been at a point of confusion and if you’re one of the lost kids in the world, looking for employment or stuck in your mother’s basement, and you see Mike Cernovich, this man living with his hot wife and wonderful life in Orange County like one of the Beach Boys, you’re gonna aspire to that lifestyle.
Mike is very skilled at projecting this cool image that you aspire to – that might sound surprising to you and I but, in that world, a lot of people want to be Mike. And that’s why the private sphere was so important – it allowed me the chance to break down the public image and it was surprising to me just how broken that image is. All of them are such contradictions of the image they project and I can take you one by one. Richard Spencer styles himself as a dissident philosopher who will go to the ends to fight for a white utopia. But later in the film you see him jobless, begging for money and he’s living in his wealthy mom’s basement. Cernovich is this entrepreneur who says he’s in the fight for conservatism but the second that well dries up and it’s not helpful for him anymore, he pivots to supplements and facial skincare products.
There’s a moment in the film in a car ride where he admits he’s a deeply unhappy person and states, “I’m not someone who likes myself very much.” That shocked me. It was a two-hour interview in which he responded in typical Mike fashion – I asked maybe two questions and he would ramble on about fake news and such – but eventually all he was left with was his existential dread, which told me that he’s really not the person he projects. And then there’s Lauren, who’s the most complicated in this way, a hyper-articulate, pretty, young woman who understands how to make something go viral on YouTube and hit it big at the age of 19, but all of the things she knows so well make her miserable. All of the anti-feminism she puts in the world has come back to bite her and she doesn’t sit well with it. That’s the surprise of the film and as a documentarian you want to convey what you felt in those moments.
In conjunction to the previous point that I made about how you managed to capture this strong contrast, where I was also impressed by your skill as a storyteller was how you identified a similar arc for all three subjects, from influential figures to this real low point towards the end, the way you just described with Spencer begging for money for example. How unexpected was this outcome? Did you know this was going to be your film?
Daniel Lombroso: That’s a great question and I’ll begin by saying a follow film is the riskiest bet you can make as a documentary filmmaker. I’m starting to think about my second feature and you have to be an idiot to decide to do what I did, which is place your bets on subjects and hope that they stay interesting. I could have never guessed that Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys, would call and proposition Lauren Southern or that Mike Cernovich felt the way he felt. I knew Mike had a wife but didn’t know that she was this colorful Dolce & Gabbana reality TV-style woman who lives in Orange County. I didn’t know that he was secretly a very depressive person or that he was going to fall. I didn’t know that this movement – it’s important to say its ideas are in the mainstream now, but I had no idea that these figures would face such tough times even with their level of support.
All of it made for much better cinema. I couldn’t believe my eyes when a lot of these things were happening, such as when Richard went out for his speech and there was only 12 people there, a couple of whom looked like they were from Duck Dynasty. There’s no way to pre-plan or to foreshadow those things. That’s why I have a huge amount of respect for filmmakers who do this kind of work because you’re really capturing a life. You’re doing a first draft in history, capturing life in real-time. Then it’s on you and on the editor to make it cohesive. Thankfully, we had all of these nuggets and, pretty quickly, it morphed into a rise and fall story. If I think to the timeline, two years from when I shot the first frame, the act two, act three, the fall started to happen, and I just had to have faith that things would come together. I have a lot of friends who’ve done this kind of work, they are two or three years into their film and their character’s stagnant, there’s little change over time. Then they have a bad pancake on your hands and have to figure out what to do with it. Thankfully, with these three wild, reprehensible subjects, they kept it interesting for a few years.
It’s a real testament to your ability as a filmmaker that you were able to get this honesty out of them considering they’re all about the image they project. Was there any point in making the film that you found yourself just so conflicted about continuing the film because they were personally offensive to you? Or any other sort of friction between you and the subjects?
Daniel Lombroso: I think they grew to like me. I always kept my journalistic distance and I was very clear about my position on things. It’s clear with the level of access I had and the honesty that was conveyed, like you said, that they grew to like me and that when they were talking to my camera, they were actually talking to me, and that it wasn’t “I’m talking to the Atlantic about this exposé on the alt-right.” It was, “I’m talking to Daniel because I haven’t seen him in a few weeks and I just want to catch up.” Over the years I became almost like a confidant to them, never validating their opinions but being willing to listen. At times, it was very difficult or even traumatic.
There were a few physical altercations that I don’t feel comfortable expanding on, but I can tell you that there were a couple of very touchy moments, one of which I’ve never shared on the record that was personally deeply uncomfortable. It was a very difficult and even at times dangerous recording process but they grew to like me so much that in a way they protected me. I know that sounds weird but, as long as these three individuals were around, I was safe in the environment. They would say, “Daniel’s a good guy. I know he works for the fake news media, but treat him right.” It would only get touchy whenever those three were down. One example is Richard left me at a ranch in the middle of Central Florida and went out to dinner, leaving me with like 20 or 30 young white nationalists and Neo-Nazis, like the most hardcore.
He left me alone in Central Florida in the pitch black, at a ranch with these kids and their barking dogs – I couldn’t even call an Uber out there. They got really nasty, yelling kike and throwing Nazi salutes in my direction. Sometimes things like that would happen. All in all, though, it was an okay experience. I think the trauma of it really is processing it now. I work alone for the most part and usually running cameras, sometimes two cameras, working sounds, setting up lighting – there is so much happening that the only thing that’s on my mind is don’t fuck this up. Don’t fuck up the shot. It can be surprisingly hard to process even the worst, let’s say, antisemitism in the moment because all I’m thinking about is capturing it.
It’s only now that my life has really slowed down with COVID, I have gone through the footage and thought about it. I’ve talked to my grandmother who’s still alive, who’s a Holocaust survivor, and have tried to make sense of it. I think in the moment, there were times I wanted to scream at them but instead, I would try to pick those opportunities to educate them, to teach them about my families, to teach them about the experience of life, friends of color in the world, and what they go through on a daily basis. I’m not sure that I moved anyone but I at least made the effort when I had the chance.
Right. I’m curious to know if there was any other individuals associated with the far-right who you think had potentially interesting stories or you wanted to talk to them, such as Gavin McInnes, who was briefly in your film, or Paul Joseph Watson, the YouTuber?
Daniel Lombroso: I probably met and interviewed everyone on the far-right with the exception of two people, Alex Jones, and Paul Joseph Watson. I forgot about him for a second. Those two are rabble-rousers and they’re provocateurs. At a certain point, especially with an Alex Jones, you have to worry about giving a platform because he is a good manipulator. He’s an actor. His wife sued him for child custody, and she used some of his recordings in court and said, “How can this man be a father?” I’m paraphrasing but he responded, “No, that’s not me, that’s the person I play on the radio.” He would just be dancing around me. I don’t think I would have ever gotten the honesty that I got from the three subjects in my film. Paul Joseph Watson, he’s just an angry provocateur. I don’t know that there’s enough complexity there.
I think what interested me about these three, especially Cernovich and Lauren, is the complexity, the Persian wife, and the depression for Mike, the anti-feminism for Lauren. A project can go in many directions and I need to know that I’ve got something to cling on to and see contradictions and tension from the get-go. Some of the other figures, there just wasn’t enough there to give the audience more context. Like Lucian Wintrich, he’s a minor character in the film. We thought about him as a major character, but he’s just a dipshit who wants attention to be honest. It felt more responsible for us to make him a minor character. Another example is Based Stickman, who got his name because he just beats the shit out of leftists with a stick. He’s just a bad guy – you’re not going to learn anything other than that he’s angry that the white power is being taken away in this country and wants to beat people up. I considered various people like that and eventually realized it wasn’t worth my time.
Do you have any thoughts on the alt-right pipeline of radicalization compared to other forms in the world today, such as Islamic extremism or the Hindutva mobs in India?
Daniel Lombroso: I think nationalism is rising worldwide. It’s a very complicated question as to why, but I think the very simplistic answer is that liberalism offers an incomplete solution. It says we all live in society together, we should respect each other. We should have laws, we should have equality. We should have public services that treat all people equally, but it doesn’t provide that feeling of transcendence, that you’re part of something larger. There’s nothing spiritual, for lack of a better word, about being a good citizen. It’s part of your duty.
What nationalists, from the alt-right to Hindu nationalists and many others, do is that they provide this feeling that you’re part of a much larger struggle, a historical struggle. That was very common, obviously, with Jihadi groups a couple of decades ago, and even more recently with ISIS, who believed they had a chance to return the caliphate to the Middle East. It’s a lot more exciting to be yielding the new caliphate than to be a bus driver in London. They provide that in the same way. In terms of the imminent threat, I strongly believe, at least in the American context, that white domestic terrorism is now the biggest threat without a doubt.
It’s clear in the data, a lot of violence in the past decade has been perpetrated by white domestic terrorists. If you go back about 9, 10 years ago, you have Anders Breivik who killed dozens and dozens of people in Denmark. In the US, you have Dylann Roof, you have Pittsburgh, you have El Paso. Christchurch the other year. It never ends and it’s also a very clear interconnected network. The point is not that Dylann Roof talked to Anders Breivik who talked to the New Zealand shooter, it’s that they’re all consuming the same media, they’re all part of the same hive mind.
With social media, you start with one video, you get to another, and very soon you’re watching Richard Spencer and you’re reading alt-right manifestos. Many radical groups stand to benefit from it, but I think white domestic terrorism clearly the most, because in the past if you were interested in becoming a white nationalist, you had to meet a bunch of weird guys in a parking lot of a Walmart and pass around some pamphlets. Now you just read some things on the internet and you feel like you’re a part of it. I can tell you from my perspective, having been embedded for several years, not only is the violence growing, there are more and more young people who are drawn to these ideas because, as I said, they provide a feeling of transcendence.
It doesn’t matter that it’s not logical. I think liberals put too much emphasis on trying to debunk misinformation. The point is that liberals have to tell a better story. You have to convince the other side that theirs is the wrong story. There’s a way to counteract it but it has to be by appealing to a better emotional impulse than this one because it’s clearly part of our politics now. Even though Mike, Lauren, and Richard may be flailing, there’s a new generation of kids who are pushing this stuff, maybe even more insidious stuff. One example is Nick Fuentes, who’s about 22 and leading Stop the Steal protests, this voter fraud conspiracy that stopped Trump from winning. This kid is a minor celebrity – he lives off of donations. There are many more waiting in the wings behind him. We’re stuck with this reality for the foreseeable future. It goes beyond Trump – he ignited a lot of it but it’s going to outlast him without a doubt.
I think you did an amazing job at assembling all the footage together with the news, the actuality. How much of it was your own, and how much of it was captured by third party photographers?
Daniel Lombroso: Everything was our own except for archive. I shot 80% of the frames, and then for a few of the bigger shoots, we’d have a second camera. The only hidden trick of the film is that I was actually not in Charlottesville. Actually, I was doing a documentary on Israeli settlers, which is an interesting parallel, a different kind of radicalism. I had just gotten back the day before Charlottesville and we weren’t really doing the feature yet. Charlottesville was when it became a feature. For that scene, we utilised first-person video and archive. Everything else except for montages is original footage. I think we licensed two clips but otherwise, it’s all original media.
Is there any footage you shot that was left on the cutting room floor that you would have loved to include, but it just didn’t fit for any particular reasons?
Daniel Lombroso: A lot but it was all understandable. With Cernovich, I filmed for eight additional months. For the last scene, I kept filming with him, and only when I was six months down the line did I realize that his story had ended already. We had a conclusive ending with his pivot to grifting. Everything afterward would have complicated that conclusion. It’s incumbent upon you as the storyteller to offer clarity in act three. One of the things afterward was that he made this film that wasn’t really a film and had a premiere for it – it would have been terribly distracting that all of a sudden Cernovich is a movie producer when it’s not a part of his legacy at all, so we cut that. There’s a lot of images that I would have loved to use. Cernovich did a full beauty routine and I have these amazing shots of him in a face mask just lying there. I went skiing with Spencer, so I have all of these shots of him skiing, but he ruined it for me when said, “Daniel, even if I look terrible in this movie, at least people will know that I can ski double black diamonds.” Things like that. I had about 300 hours of footage.
In my review, I wrote how White Noise reminded me of Lauren Greenfield’s film The Queen of Versailles. I had a similar emotional response and thought the tone and style of filming took cues from her works. Could you speak to me more about the influence of her on your work?
Daniel Lombroso: I love The Queen of Versailles. I watched her new film Generation Wealth and I’ve seen many of her photo series over the years about life in California. I think what she does so well is capture the excesses of America. For her, it’s much more about wealth and inequality, but she’s so good at capturing contrast. One moment that comes to mind from Queen of Versailles: the film, as you know, is about the building of the biggest mansion in the US and then the recession hits. The family is so up their own ass, thinking about how they’re going to build this mansion that they don’t really think about the people around them. There’s this really emotional moment where the point of view of the film pivots to the maid, I believe. She takes you to the maid’s quarters, which is tiny, and she’s really struggling in the recession.
It’s the ultimate contrast between this giant mansion and then these private quarters. Lauren Greenfield is so good at capturing excess and the tragedy and comedy of the human ego. How big people can think, and how up their ass they get with their ambitions. I find narcissism to be very funny. The degree to which people lack self-awareness, and how you can really just come to live in your own bubble the way the alt-right does, believing everything is true, or the way the ultra-rich do. They come to believe that their narrative is true and suffer from confirmation bias. Lauren is respectfully able to provide that outside narrative. I think a different filmmaker would have made a different film, maybe a film about the recession with talking heads or maybe, “Here is this family, but this film is highly critical and we’re condemning them.” Instead, she let them slowly reveal themselves. That’s the pinnacle of good filmmaking.
You don’t insert yourself into the film and, by staying observational, you’re not telling people how to feel about this film. However, I do want to know what you hope audiences will take away from White Noise?
Daniel Lombroso: That was a very intentional decision, one that we’ve been criticized for at times, but one that I knew would be a criticism going in from day one. I knew that our approach would be controversial, but it didn’t deter me nor my team. The reason is because the goal of the film is to raise awareness and put into perspective just how severe the problem is. I don’t mean that there’s an imminent fascist utopia – I hate that kind of liberal handwringing. The point is not that our governments are being taken over by fascists, although that is part of it, it’s just to show how widespread these ideas are, how much traction they have, not just in Alabama or the south. Maybe for you it will be the north in England, in the working-class places, but it’s also in the rich, liberal, privately educated areas.
The people in the film are highly educated and move in adjacent circles that I do in New York City. I see them walking on the street. Other characters I’ve interviewed, I’ve seen in Brooklyn or in the upper side of Manhattan. This is not a faraway problem, this is a problem that’s down the street from you, it’s your neighbors. It’s the people that are around you and that are shaping our world. I think the best way to address that is to show it and to shine a light and I got unprecedented access to create something for the world and spark conversation around it.
I had a very interesting conversation with a Boston College social work professor who’s Indian American. He was saying he wanted to convey to his students, as a professor of color, not just the institutional racism and structural racism, which is something we talk a lot about now, but what he experiences in his daily life as a brown man. He said how he wanted to show the naked racism of America, of Western countries. The screening is not locked in yet but that’s why he’s interested in programming this film because it captures what he said – “the naked racism” of the US, and you could also say of Europe as well.
I couldn’t tell you where to donate your money, I couldn’t tell you what the solution is to the social media problem with radicalization. What I can tell you is that these ideas are out there, they’re growing, and there’s a lot of young people that are into them, and we need to have that conversation, we need to be aware of it. Liberals and progressives in particular need to reckon with how close it is, that it’s something that’s right around them, and they’re not above it. There’s a very good chance it’s someone that they know, maybe even in their extended families, who is watching these memes and consuming these videos and believing this stuff.
I know your film is still rolling out throughout the festival circuit. What have been the most interesting responses you’ve read or received so far?
Daniel Lombroso: Well, yours is a pretty interesting one [laughs]. I think the idea of contrast is something I think about a lot, even down to lensing, going from a wide lens to a telephoto [laughs]. More generally, I think a lot of critics have responded mostly well. The only ones who haven’t are due to political reasons, such as not to give a platform to the subjects. The ones who’ve really watched it and taken it seriously, which is the vast majority, have had such interesting insights. Chris Barsanti in The Playlist was the first great review. He, right way, sniffed the main themes of the film, which is designed to be subtle, that these are grifters, that these are opportunists, and that this movie shows the infrastructure of that grifting.
In an alternative universe, if this wasn’t made for The Atlantic, I would probably call it American Grifter. That is what the movie is. Owen Gleiberman, the great critic for Variety, wrote a great review. His talks about the contradictions of each of the characters, which is so key to me. I think, as a filmmaker, critics have so much on their plate, they’re watching so many films, and when you get one who you can tell really watched and understood what your intentions were like those two did, it just means a lot. Alissa Wilkinson at Vox gave a great review and called the film excellent. I think she comes from somewhat of a religious background and understood all the characters but especially Lauren.
She understood the comedy of human ago and I think a lot of people are afraid to admit that the film’s funny at times because it’s so dark, and because people don’t want to seem like they’re condoning anything. She talked about that, how the film is funny in this bizarre way, and understood that the film was a deconstruction. There’s been a lot of great reviews, and the Q&As have been, as you would guess, very explosive and spirited. It’s such a controversial topic and a controversial approach. I’ve been heartened to see that a vast majority of people have watched it through what it was intended to be, so I’m feeling good about it.
I’m glad that’s been your experience. When you mentioned how there’s a minority of critics who have criticized the film for political reasons, such as saying that we shouldn’t give these people a platform, it’s always a conflict to me because I do think that this story should be told in the way you did it. It reminds me of how recently there was a documentary on the New York rapper, 6ix9ine, that went to Hulu. I don’t know if you know of this documentary.
Daniel Lombroso: No, I don’t.
You know of him, right?
Daniel Lombroso: I don’t, actually. Who is he? He’s probably really famous, and now I feel like out of touch [laughs].
His name is Daniel Hernandez and he goes by Tekashi69. He has a very controversial story. He was just in jail for two years for gang-related crimes. Before that, he was found guilty of using a child in a sexual performance for a music video. This filmmaker, Vikram Gandhi, wanted to make a documentary chronicling his meteoric rise and fall, going from Danny the deli clerk to 6ix9ine, charting on the Billboard every other week, to convicted criminal. When I went on the film website Letterboxd to read user responses, the top one essentially tells you to ignore the film, stating that he should be in jail again, not getting a documentary. I don’t agree with that because films about bad people can be cautionary tales for us at the very least. It doesn’t have to be that just because a person is on camera, they’ve got a platform. It depends entirely on how that platform is used and the story that’s being told.
Daniel Lombroso: Very well said. If we were to make them out to be rock stars and we made an alt-right propaganda film, I would understand the critique, but no one is coming out of this film and saying, “I want to be these people.” They don’t look good. It’s not flattering. It’s a depiction of how hungry they are for attention and how narcissistic and diluted they are. It’s been a reckoning. For a lot of people, it’s been eye-opening and even conservatives I’ve watched with – my dad is pretty conservative-leaning – have watched it and come out of it thinking, these people have infiltrated my movement, the conservative movement, the Republican Party, and I want nothing to do with them.
It’s important to have those conversations and to tackle these things to be clear-eyed. Here’s a more personal way I could put it: when you spend four years of work on something and someone dismissively writes it off without clearly engaging with it, it can be difficult. There are some reviews that challenge some parts of the film and criticize them, but they’re thoughtful, the critic watched it. One example is Eric Kohn and IndieWire, who wrote a mixed-positive review, but it’s a great review. He put the time in, he watched it, he thought about it. As a filmmaker, I can live with that. But I do think there are attempts to dismiss certain types of projects about certain types of people and I don’t think that’s good for the public conversation.
There’s been quite a lot of work around the alt-right and throughout these four years, such as Alison Klayman’s brilliant documentary, The Brink, about Steve Bannon. Do you have any particular resources, whether it’s writing or films or documentaries that you would recommend to people if they wanted to look more into this subject?
Daniel Lombroso: I wrote a story on Lauren Southern that goes beyond the film, and I think is an illuminating chapter on her current life, particularly about how much misogyny is attached to racism. That article goes beyond the film about the sexual harassment she faced and some of her reckonings. There are a lot of great books – Andrew Marantz at The New Yorker wrote, in my opinion, the best catch-all book on the movement called Antisocial. I highly recommend that. Seyward Darby wrote a great book about women of the far right, and what motivates them, called Sisters in Hate. I’m reading a great one now called White Too Long by Robert Jones. It’s about the legacy of white supremacy in American Christianity. He does a great job of showing that evangelical movements in the United States had their roots in being pro-confederacy and upholding slavery and that many of the evangelical groups we know of now who supported Trump have their roots in white supremacy and in the preservation of slavery.
Could you tell us about anything else you’re working on or want to work on?
Daniel Lombroso: It’s a horrible time to be a filmmaker, honestly [laughs]. I finished my first film and I thought with all the great press, the world would open up, but it’s been difficult. The Atlantic dissolved its video department, so I’m unemployed at the moment. It’s an opportunity for me to start freelancing. I’m working on smaller things like photo essays and written stories. I’m thinking about my next feature documentary, and I have a lot of different ideas, none of which I feel comfortable pitching out to you. The hope is to have a sustainable career as a freelancer. It’s hard in this environment with little money flowing around due to COVID, but I’m finding a balance and then hopefully starting my second feature soon. I don’t think it’s going to be on this topic but these are themes that I think about a lot: ethnicity, citizenship, what it means to belong in a diverse world. I grew up in a pretty traditional, not a religious, but a traditional Jewish home. My identity and my heritage is really stressed to me and it’s a very complicated legacy.
There are all different interesting things that I’m always thinking about, what does it mean to be Jewish in America? What does it mean to be the grandson of Holocaust survivors? I think those sorts of questions are questions that a lot of communities grapple with, what does it mean to assimilate into a dominant society and then to come somewhere new where you’re expected to live a different way? Those are questions I think about a lot and even though I won’t be covering white nationalism, I think there are other ways to get at those questions.
Whether it’s about religion, or about cults, or even just about different immigrant stories, I think those are the types of things that I’m really drawn to and will continue to unpack. Then the last thing I’ll add is I’ve had a lot of time to write. In the long-term, my dream would be to do narrative features as well. I’ve completed a couple of scripts, one I could tell you is about a Russian spy, who I’ve developed a pen-pal relationship with. He’s living in solitary confinement, and he’s been opening up to me about his life. I’m trying to adapt his story into a feature film.
Film Inquiry thanks Daniel Lombroso for taking the time to speak with us!
White Noise is digitally available in the US, click here for more details. News of a UK release is yet to come.
Watch White Noise
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.