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Ramin Bahrani’s Documentary ‘2nd Chance’ Copes with a National ‘Wholesale Loss of Truth’

Bahrani and executive producer Joshua Oppenheimer joined IndieWire's Sundance Studio, presented by Adobe, to discuss their doc about the inventor of the bulletproof vest.

One pandemic, two warring political parties, and a performative president later, and the subject of “2nd Chance” may at first seem quaint. A former Marine turned bankrupt pizzeria owner invents the modern-day bulletproof vest, and to prove its functionality, he shoots himself almost 200 times. Put this man on 4Chan and see what happens, we could easily say today.

But starting back in the 1970s, Richard Davis was viewed as an eccentric revolutionary whose decades-spanning career in weaponry culminated in self-taped videos (“Second Chance vs. Magnum Force” was already featured on RedLetterMedia’s “Best of the Worst”) and the pursuit of larger-than-life celebrity, especially among police.

“Initially when I had heard about it, I thought it was going to be a typical rise and fall story that had a moral,” director Ramin Bahrani exclusively explained during the IndieWire Studio, presented by Adobe, at Sundance Film Festival, where the film had its world premiere. “In a way like Arthur Miller’s ‘All My Sons,’ I thought that’s the direction the documentary was going to be heading. But when I went to film with Richard in Michigan, this story started to evolve and take a different shape and form.”

How, exactly, does a documentary deal with an unreliable narrator as its prime subject?

“It’s really not clear to me which of these deceptions he believes actually now, or which of them he believes for our presentation together. I’m not sure,” Bahrani said. “There were certain areas where I was hoping Richard would reveal himself in some more emotional way. I don’t think it was that he didn’t want to, I just think his character in mind doesn’t work that way. So then it was really turning to the people around him that would help us understand Richard and everything he created.”

Executive producer Joshua Oppenheimer compared Davis’ “performativity” to a national crisis of deception.

“There’s the question of how he wants to be seen, how does he see himself, and what is he willing to sacrifice in the world and in relation to truth in order to maintain that self-image for himself,” Oppenheimer noted. “What are the costs of maintaining that performance? I think that question of the gap between what we believe and what we know, is what makes him so fascinating.”

Davis reflects a “wholesale loss of truth” on a nationwide-level, Bahrani added, citing a lack of “consensus around how we decide what is true is probably the greatest threat that we face” as a country.

“I think there’s something extremely intelligent and inventive in Richard,” Bahrani stated. “He’s clearly really imaginatively intelligent on what he’s focused on, which is armor, weaponry.”

But, Oppenheimer pointed out, Davis’ “cognitive dissonance” was perhaps his most fatal flaw. “The theme of guilt and how do we lie to ourselves, what stories do we tell ourselves so we can run away from regret, how does denial of the past hollow out our relationships and cause all sort of destructive behavior, I think making the act of killing as well is a deep well to draw for these characters,” he said.

Watch the full interview above.

Presenting sponsor Adobe — with a mission to enable creativity for all — is committed to supporting, elevating and amplifying underrepresented creators, so the world can see, learn and benefit from diverse perspectives. Learn more at Adobe.com Diverse Voices. The upcoming 2022 festival marks the fifth consecutive year IndieWire and Adobe have joined forces for the IndieWire Studio at Sundance.

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