Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Politics and popcorn mix at Little Art

In politics, timing can be everything: the right person with the right skills for the right job. This is also true for the independent documentary filmmaker.

“In 2004, I was working at the polls in South Florida as an Election Protection volunteer,” said Dorothy Fadiman during a recent phone interview from her home in Menlo Park, Calif.

“As we were being trained we were told that, in the early voting, people would try to vote for Kerry and [the electronic voting machine] would switch to Bush. Then we were told not to tell anybody, because knowing that might discourage them from voting.”

The same complaint continued throughout the day. Fadiman didn’t know if this odd occurrence was limited to just the precinct where she was working — until the next day when she got on the plane to go home.

“A number of us came from California and worked in parts of South Florida and everybody had similar stories,” she continued. “I decided at that point, the day after the election, to do a film about this phenomenon of vote switching. Even if it was only happening in South Florida, it was worth documenting.”

After hearing reports of voting machine irregularities happening all across the country, the Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated filmmaker decided she would start filming in Youngstown, Ohio, where vote switching had also been the norm for voting day.

“They never pulled the machines out of service, even though this problem was being reported all day,” said Fadiman. “No mainstream paper in the country has ever reported this story. So I decided to make a movie.”

Fadiman’s 20th documentary — “Stealing America: Vote by Vote” — will play at the Little Art Theatre in a special screening on Sunday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m. Proceeds from the suggested donation of $5-10 will go to Miami County Neighbors for Change, a local grassroots activism group whose mission is to organize for long-term election reform.

Interest in the movie — and the subject — has gradually gained momentum over the course of filming. “When I first began to talk about this,” said Fadiman, “we were just a handful of people across the country. There weren’t really any organizations actively committed to this issue of election theft. There were just the beginnings of what has now grown into a nationwide movement for election reform.”

The response to her film has been surprising — and affirming.

“After a screening, the first reaction is a kind of sad gratitude because deep down, people actually do want to know the truth,” said Fadiman. “It’s difficult to completely ignore or deny what seem to be ‘glitches’ have actually changed election results. Then a lot of repressed anger comes out with the realization that these election results may not be accurate. And then there’s a feeling of ‘What can I do?’”

To address that question, Fadiman and her film team spent months compiling information for the “take action” section of her website, www.stealingamericathemovie.org.

“In my opinion, the only truly safe, secure way to vote is hand-counted paper ballots in the precinct, on the night of the election, with bipartisan observers. If any of those things are missing in this process, you have the potential for trouble.” Fadiman has an absentee ballot. “I’m going to vote on paper and then hand-deliver it to the poll where I’m to vote.”

“Stealing America: Vote by Vote” will be free to view and download at the website beginning Oct. 21. It will also air on the YS public access station, Channel 5, on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 2, 6, 10 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 26 at 2, 10 a.m., 2, 6, 10 p.m. Future station air dates will be posted in the YS News.

For voting information, please contact Greene County Board of Elections at (937) 562-7470.

Like Fadiman, film director and Cleveland native Jason Zone Fisher recognized an opportunity to put his filmmaking skills to good use but he’ll be the first to admit his motivation was not exactly high-minded.

“My film partner and co-director, John Intrater, and I were good friends in college,” said Zone Fisher over the phone on a break in his hectic travel schedule. The two friends graduated on May 14, 2006, from Syracuse University and started filming five days later. “We decided to make the film really because we wanted to avoid getting a real job after school,” he laughed. “We thought we’d film some stuff and that’d be the end. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.”

A pre-release screening of their documentary film, “Swing State,” will be shown Saturday, Oct. 25, at 4 p.m. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. Ticket sales benefit the Greene County Democratic Party. A minimum donation of $20 per admission is requested. Advanced tickets are available through the Democratic Party office in Xenia, 87 East Main Street, (937) 372-6003. Zone Fisher will be in attendance as well as his father, Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher.

From the day they started filming, Zone Fisher, Intrater, and co-director Spencer Young had a feeling that Ohio would play a pivotal role in the 2008 election just as it had in 2004. “We thought it’d be good to have a film come out [during the 2008 election] that focuses on the importance of the state of Ohio,” said Zone Fisher.

In light of the film’s casual beginnings, and much to the filmmakers’ astonishment, the film was picked up for distribution and will be released on Election Day, Nov. 4. It has been playing at pre-screenings and film festivals across the country since March, beginning with a premiere at the Cleveland Film Festival.

“Over 600 people showed up to the film on opening night and gave it a standing ovation,” said Zone Fisher. “It set a record for the largest Q&A session in the 32-year history of the Cleveland Film Festival. From San Francisco to Florida, all over the country — not just in Ohio — people have really connected to it.”

“This video has two major aspects that are important,” said Jerry Sutton, who first saw the film at the Democratic National Convention in August where he was a first-time delegate and who organized the screening at the Little Art Theatre. “One, it shows the criticality of Ohio to the ’08 presidential race and two, it shows the impact of engaging in a major campaign and what that impact is on the family and the individual in the center of the fight.”

The film is an intimate look at candidate Lee Fisher’s family during the 1998 and 2006 Ohio Governor’s race. “It’s about the side of politics you don’t usually get to see unless you’ve lived in a political family,” said the Lt. Governor’s eldest and only son.

Understandably, the Fisher family was “a nervous wreck” on opening night. “They had seen rough cuts and different versions of the film,” said Zone Fisher, “but they had not seen the final product until it was up on the big screen in front of 600 people.” His family was overwhelmed by the positive reaction from the audience. “That made them feel a lot better,” he added. “They realized people really get it and appreciate it.”

Local filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert were consultants on the film.

“What the film offers that most documentaries can’t is the humor and quirkiness inside a campaign,” explained Bognar, who enjoyed seeing major political figures relaxing and joking with one another. Bognar felt the filmmaker had a definite advantage not only due to his “insider access” but also because of his age during the filming.

“He comes off as a kid,” said Bognar of Zone Fisher who was 14 during the 1998 campaign, “and so people let their guard down more. Some of these elected officials felt comfortable with him in a way they probably wouldn’t have if another documentary crew was following the story.”

“Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” said Zone Fisher, “the film teaches a valuable lesson that politicians are humans, too, and they have families who don’t necessarily sign up for a life in politics.” Zone Fisher hopes his film will show people how much time, devotion, and sacrifice is put into running for political office. “The least we should do is pay attention, have an opinion, and vote.”

DVDs of the film are available online at www.swingstate08.com and pre-orders will be taken at the screening.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.