INFLUENCE – Hot Docs online


Do I miss movies? Of course, I do, or more specifically, films in their “natural” setting: the cavernous setting of a movie theatre. Well, COVID-19 has closed all these venues.  Then, the only chance to enjoy a film at this moment is on a TV set, a computer screen, or even a mobile phone screen (an option I personally deride and would never take). In any case, movies are still on, with a variety of sources, from commercial streaming services like Netflix to Internet providers like Bell, even chains like Cineplex. On this occasion, however, I will comment a documentary that will be aired on May 21, on CBC, the Documentary Channel, and Gem.

“Influence” will be shown as part of the Toronto-based Hot Docs festival. The film has a connection to Montreal since McGill alumni Richard Poplak co-directed it together with South Africa’s Diana Neille. The documentary focuses on British spin-doctor Lord Timothy Bell of PR firm Bell Pottinger. With a considerable amount of archival material, not always easy to follow, “Influence” provides a powerful depiction of the transformation of politics.  The political discourse aims now at causing an effect by some kind of theatrical performance, more than by anything substantial. Bell’s career as a PR man for politicians took off when in the late 1970s was in charge of Margaret Thatcher’s campaign in Britain. He was an important factor in making her win three consecutive elections.

The film also explores some other of his ventures, particularly in the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf War, where lies were conveniently used to justify American intervention. The notorious publicist was also involved in Chile’s Pinochet, and more recently in the election of Donald Trump. Most of the film, however, focuses on South Africa and the role the Briton played in creating racial conflict during the electoral campaign that led to the election of Nelson Mandela as first democratically-elected president of that country.  That conflict prevented the ANC from getting the necessary majority to make substantial changes to the constitution.

“Influence” provides a very penetrating look into the practices and the thought of Tim Bell, who died in 2019 (“I have my own morality,” he says during an interview), as well as a disquieting look into how politics today are being manipulated. In another part of the film, Bell talks about “old democracy” and “controlled democracy.”  This is a documentary that I recommend, especially to those interested in world politics, and British and South African recent history.

Running time: 150 min.


This time could also be an opportunity for movie fans to explore other genres and some international productions. Cinema Moderne offers an engaging online program for this month, I strongly recommend Ken Loach’s “Sorry, We Missed You” which is online since May 15. Check the whole list by visiting

For its part, the Israeli Film Festival, scheduled for June will also take place online. A series of feature and documentaries are on the list this year, the titles and other information can be found at

Feature image: Part of the Hot Docs festival now aired on CBC, “Influence” presents a revealing look at politics in times of ‘fake news’, all of that under the influence of notorious Lord Tim Bell 

By: Sergio Martinez –

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