Hot Docs 2012: The Revisionaries

"Somebody's got to stand up to the experts." That absurd line pretty much sums up the politics of Don McLeroy, creationist, Evangelical Christian, and the chair of the Texas Board of Education at the centre of The Revisionaries. As far as he's concerned, people who want to teach evolution in schools are bigoted anti-religious ideologues. ("Secular humanists," is a term he uses often and with disdain.) And as the excellent new documentary from first-time director Scott Thurman shows in fascinating detail, it's McLeroy and his conservatives allies on the board who control the guidelines for buying textbooks in Texas.

The Revisionaries focuses on the battle over the exact wording of those guidelines. The stakes are high. Texas buys all of their textbooks on mass every seven years, and since they buy so many their decisions set the market for other states as well. The film opens with the battle over science textbooks, with McLeroy and his allies winning votes to insert terms which will require publishers to include creationist arguments alongside hard science. But it doesn't end there. Social science and history come under siege as well. (One of McLeroy's more infuriating motions: "I would like to delete 'hip hop' and insert 'country music'.") The conservatives win most of those votes as well.

It's all depressing as fuck, but also unexpectedly entertaining. The expressions on the faces of the evolution supporters alone would be worth seeing the movie for; they cannot believe some of things that come out of McLeroy's mouth. And indeed, he is as dumb as a Ford Brother but with even more of their everyman charm. "On a personal level, I really like Don," Thurman admitted in the Q&A after the screening. And when McLeroy loses his bid for re-election as the chair (one of the film's few signs of hope), someone sitting behind me, who, like much of the audience, had been laughing at his ignorance all night long, whispered to her friend, "I feel bad for him." And you really do.

The entire audience, in fact, got really into the movie. They laughed, clapped, even shouted something at the screen once or twice. Thurman, who praised the crowd as the "best audience ever", suggested that reaction might have something to do with being Canadian. The audience in Dallas had laughed, too, he said, but they were also really pissed off. "You guys are a lot more removed from it," he said. "It's a spectacle." But as we filed out of the theatre, I couldn't help but feel like the events in the movie were far too familiar. Conservatives dismantling expertize-based government in favour of radical ideology while winning elections based on I'd-like-to-have-a-beer-with-the-guy charm? The Revisionaries is most definitely not just about Texas.

- Adam Bunch

The Revisionaries is playing again on Thurs. May 3 at 9:30pm at the ROM Theatre and Fri. May 4 at 11am at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Tickets 'n' stuff here.

Find all of our coverage of Hot Docs 2012 here. 

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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