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Secret COVID-19 documentary 'Totally Under Control' lands at the perfect time

Nardine Saad
Los Angeles Times
Alex Gibney attends the 72nd Writers Guild Awards last February in New York City. Gibney recently released the first trailer for "Totally Under Control," his latest film, which examines President Donald Trump's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney appeared to capitalize on the ever-changing news cycle Friday by releasing the first trailer for "Totally Under Control," his latest film, which examines President Donald Trump's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The teaser dropped not long after Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump contracted the novel coronavirus.

The film bills itself as "the definitive account of the Trump administration's incompetence, corruption and denial in the face of this global pandemic." It unpacks the White House's handling of the pandemic and Trump's efforts to downplay it, starkly contrasting the U.S. response to that of South Korea.

"On January 20th, 2020 the US and South Korea both discovered their first cases of COVID-19," the film's synopsis reads. "However, nine months later, the novel Coronavirus has claimed the lives of over 200,000 Americans and caused staggering economic damage, while in South Korea, there were no significant lockdowns and, in an urbanized population of 51 million, only 344 lives have been lost. Where did we go wrong?"

The documentary was made in secrecy over the last five months, the trailer says, with Gibney and co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger interviewing scientists, medical professionals and government officials "on the inside."

Whistleblower Rick Bright features heavily in the trailer, saying that scientists knew what to do to respond to the viral threat and "the plan was in front of us, but leadership would not do it." Bright testified before Congress in the spring about Trump's forced optimism about a COVID-19 vaccine, and the White House removed the senior vaccine expert from his position leading the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The documentary promises "damning testimony from public health officials and hard investigative reporting" and aims to expose "a system-wide collapse caused by a profound dereliction of Presidential leadership."

Gibney won the documentary-feature Oscar for his 2007 film, "Taxi to the Dark Side," and made waves with his Scientology expose, "Going Clear," and his Theranos scandal documentary, "The Inventor." He also directed the Netflix food docuseries "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" and a 2017 Rolling Stones concert film.

"Totally Under Control" will be released Oct. 13 on Apple TV+, iTunes, Amazon, FandangoNow, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu and other on-demand digital services. Hulu will stream the film Oct. 20.