An advertisement for "The Final Year" (Courtesy photo)
An advertisement for "The Final Year" (Courtesy photo)

There may have been only nine months left in the Obama administration, but the hard work continued.

That’s the focus of the documentary “The Final Year,” now playing at the E Street Cinema in Northwest.

Directed by Greg Barker, the documentary follows President Obama’s foreign policy team as they focus on work that will continue long after they leave the West Wing. The film spotlights Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

The standout in this nine-month exploration is Rhodes, a 29-year-old speechwriter with no foreign policy experience when he joined the administration in early 2009. He became a quick study and figured out how to frame the administration’s foreign policy positions.

The administration’s foreign policy team is followed through an astounding schedule of travel, meetings and negotiations. Power’s U.N. ambassador skills come in handy when, while en route to work, she negotiates whether one of her children can have a doughnut. A composite segment of Kerry getting on and off his plane, then going into closed-door meetings in different countries, was exhausting. Rhodes is intense and a little “gun-shy” after a negative profile in the New Yorker magazine. Rice was shown as a focused observer weighing in with necessary input, but her role is not prominently featured in the film.

Barker’s access to the team only offers the good side, the collegiality. Minor disagreements caught on camera are just that. You know there were blowups, but the audience is not privy to those moments.

The movie shows the passion and sensitivity the team has for the work and the important role the United States has in managing global conflicts. The steady calm in this final few months whirlwind is President Obama. Scenes of the president — consulting with the group, preparing for a speech, speaking to young admirers, etc. — showed a prepared leader who often made sure his staff stayed “pumped.”

One of Power’s key issue is the terror spread by Boko Haram. Her meeting with families of girls kidnapped in Nigeria takes its toll. Kerry is working through the Paris climate agreement. Rhodes asks to work on normalizing relationships with Cuba. All while the clock ticks toward the 2016 Election Night.

Of course, the White House staff and supporters are stunned by the results. Rhodes, the White House speechwriter, is speechless. But the team must keep rolling.

Near the end of the documentary, Obama sums up the never-ending challenge:

“History really doesn’t follow a straight line. It zigs and zags, but the trend lines ultimately will be in the direction of a less violent, more empathetic, more generous world. And that requires individuals fighting for that future.”

“The Final Year,” an HBO Documentary Films production, is currently in theaters and available on select streaming services. It will air on HBO later this year.

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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