Filmmaker Michael Kirk is no stranger to political intrigue and upheaval. With more than 100 FRONTLINE documentaries in his portfolio, he has captured the drama of how Washington, D.C., really works, with close examinations of the people who occupy the most powerful roles in our country. In his new documentary, Lies, Politics and Democracy, he captures today’s unprecedented level of unrest and polarization leading to a fundamental crisis for American democracy. The film can be seen here.
“Our film starts on election night, November 2020, when Donald Trump says, ‘I won. This election has been stolen,’” said Kirk. “Two months later when angry Americans stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, I knew we had to make this film.”
The gravity of the film’s findings, based on interviews with more than 30 government officials, eyewitnesses, authors, activists and journalists, gives him great pause.
“I think people will be surprised at how close our democracy came to melting down and how dangerous things are right now,” Kirk said. “I think it’s worse than people know. When you put it all together and watch it, you just shake your head at how fast the guardrails came down,” he said.
“I had always believed that the guardrails that protect American democracy—the peace-ful transition of power, the rule of law, the shared beliefs by both Republicans and Democrats to honor the Constitution—would stand up to any challenge,” Kirk said. “Lies, Politics and Democracy offers a comprehensive look at the fragility of our democracy, providing a window into how America reached this precarious tipping point,” said FRONTLINE Executive Producer and Editor-in-Chief Raney Aronson-Rath.
As with all of Kirk’s films, the narrative arc of this latest FRONTLINE documentary is driven by characters and their motivations. “I’ve always lived in the land of stories,” he said. A lifelong voracious reader and movie buff, Kirk grew up in Idaho longing to explore the world beyond.
“I was a young boy who was determined to be somewhere else,” he said. “When I was in high school, I got a job at the television stationin Boise. I couldn’t believe you could make a living doing something so fun, interesting and potentially important.“
He went on to become a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University and was the original senior producer of FRONTLINE. Founder of his own production company, the Kirk Documentary Group, he has won every major award in broadcast journalism, including four Peabody Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, two George Polk Awards, 16 Emmy Awards and 12 Writers Guild of America Awards.
He thrives on the immersive reading and research that a FRONTLINE film demands.
“I have an unbelievably capable staff that spends months digging in and preparing—reading most of the books on the subject,” he said, compiling an extensive collection of chronologies, interview transcripts and notes. “We build this amazing document called The Timeline, which is kind of legendary inside some parts of the journalism world for its thoroughness,” he said. “It’s a book in itself. The Timeline is the central brain to our process. We refer to it all day long as we are writing the script and editing the film.”
His work ethic is propelled by his lifelong admiration of Robert Caro, the Pulitzer Prizewinning author of The Years of Lyndon Johnson and The Power Broker, about the New York urban planner Robert Moses.
“The Johnson books are my North Star—the way Caro writes; the way he thinks; his process; the long, never-ending road he’s on to tell stories about the powerful people of Washington, D.C.,” said Kirk. “I just admire him completely and thoroughly. I’m aiming to match him in some way in my own field and my own work.”
As a FRONTLINE producer, he said he treasures the opportunity to take his own deep dive into essential issues.
“I hope Lies, Politics and Democracy helps viewers know how close America came to political chaos and how tenuous our political landscape is right now—so they are equipped to do something about it.” See a preview and learn more here.