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DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES

Synopsis

This film is an “origin story”—the story of our current moment in American life—told through the triumph and tragedy of Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News. It’s a chronicle of American cultural and political life from the 1950s up to the present day, and a story of serial abuse—of cruelty, both personal and public.

Roger Ailes' ego drove Republican politics for decades, steering the conservative movement from Nixon, to the Tea Party, to Trump. His accomplishment? He turned television into a coliseum of rage. Through the fiery invective of his shows, Ailes created an empire and divided a nation. 

And, like a true Shakespearean figure, uncontrollable desire was his undoing. Ailes was finally toppled when victims of his sexual harassment stepped forward. The accounts of these women—raw and infuriating—are the emotional heart of the film, the axis around which Ailes’ story reluctantly turns. In this film they are the avenging angels, but Roger’s legacy with Fox News lives on.

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The Filmmakers

Alexis Bloom Director

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Alexis produced widely for the National Geographic Channel, and for BBC World in her early career. She has worked in America since 2001, and has produced extensively for PBS Frontline on both investigative pieces and international stories. Alexis was a producer on the Emmy Award-winning PBS show Rx For Survival (for long-form non-fiction) and was also a producer and director on the NOVA series This Emotional Life. In 2014, Alexis was the recipient of the Producer’s Guild of America Award in 2014 for We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, a feature documentary for Universal Pictures that Alex Gibney directed. In 2017, Alexis was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming, and also for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking, for Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, a documentary film she made for HBO.

Will Cohen Producer

Will is a long time contributor to the PBS public affairs series FRONTLINE, producing documentaries all over the world. He was part of the team behind Firestone and the Warlord, a joint investigation with ProPublica into the tire giant’s dealings with Liberian strongman Charles Taylor, winner of a 2014 Robert F. Kennedy award, an IRE award for investigative reporting, and two Emmy awards. He was also shortlisted for a Peabody for Chasing Heroin (2016), a two-hour FRONTLINE special presentation about the American opioid epidemic. Most recently, he was a consulting producer on Dirty Money, an investigative series about financial crime and corruption, which premiered this year on Netflix.

Alex Gibney Executive Producer

Alex Gibney is an American documentary film director and producer. Gibney has been called “the most important documentarian of our time” by Esquire Magazine and “one of America’s most successful and prolific documentary filmmakers” by The New York Times. His previous work includes Taxi to the Dark Side, winner of the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the Emmy-award winning Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) and Zero Days (2016). His latest films include No Stone Unturned which premiered at the New York Film Festival in September of 2017; and HBO’s Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge (2017), co-directed by Blair Foster. 

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July 16, 2019

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Festivals & Awards

Toronto International Film Festival

2018

Alexis Bloom charts the rise and fall of the late Republican Party booster and controversial Fox News mogul who went down in flames amid multiple sexual harassment allegations.

As the powerhouse behind Fox News, Roger Ailes changed the course of US politics and discourse as much as Hearst or Pulitzer affected their times. Ailes was a key force in electing several Republican presidents, including Donald Trump, with consequences felt around the world. Before #MeToo was a mass movement, Ailes was among the first media giants to be toppled by accusations of sexual harassment. This career-spanning documentary is vital to understanding the power broker who will be studied for generations to come.

Filmmaker Alexis Bloom charts the rise and fall of Ailes interviewing both allies and enemies. Ailes started as a producer on The Mike Douglas Show in the 1960s, then pivoted to become a media advisor to Richard Nixon. That launched a lucrative career as an advisor to numerous Republicans. Ailes then reinvented himself to create an entire cable-TV channel devoted to talk shows (the predecessor to MSNBC) before he was tapped by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to oversee Fox News. In interviews going all the way back to his days at Mike Douglas, the film traces how Ailes repeatedly used his power to sexually coerce women. If he was denied, he didn't hesitate to block a woman's professional advancement, deploy a private investigator, or smear her in the press.

In a jovial 1992 interview with Charlie Rose, Ailes says, "If you want to have tremendous political influence and still be a womanizer, drug abuser, or an alcoholic, you only have one choice of career and that's journalism." Much of Ailes's influence took place in the shadows. This documentary finally brings it to light.

- Thom Powers

+ Festival Website

New York Film Festival

2018

This is the epic tale of Roger Ailes, the hemophiliac boy from Warren, Ohio, who worked his way up from television production, to the Nixon White House, to George H.W. Bush’s successful 1988 presidential campaign, to the stewardship of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, which he built into a full-fledged right-wing propaganda machine disguised as a news organization that played a starring role in the 2016 presidential election. In the bargain, Ailes and his cohorts created a host environment for an exceptionally pure strain of power-wielding misogyny that proved to be his undoing. Director Alexis Bloom goes about her task methodically, establishes her facts scrupulously, and finishes things off with an appropriately ironic edge. An A&E IndieFilms release.

+ Festival Website

Reviews

You leave “Divide and Conquer” energized and incensed, and with a grudging admiration for Ailes’s pugnacious instincts. It feels deeply uncomfortable that he might have wanted it that way.”

-Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

No matter how far back it reaches, Divide and Conquer always feels as if it’s in the present tense.”

-David Edelstein, Vulture