Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Election Day Reminds Us Who We Are

If there’s one thing that makes America unique in the world, it’s the synergy that dives the country. We come from different places, we bring our native cultures with us, we settle into little neighborhoods, we bicker among ourselves and bemoan the larger powers that be—at least until we become a part of those larger powers that be.

It’s of note that America has survived for well over 200 years, with the same Constitution it’s always had, amended here and there to clear up ambiguities and oversights, but for all intents, the same document that’s always guided us. And we’ve guided it, through the power of our vote.

Election Day, part of the PBS series P.O.V, debuts 1 July (10P, EST—check your local listings) looks at the current state of the election process. Actually, it focuses on the 2 November 2004 election day from eleven different points of view.

Election Day works on a number of levels, but it ultimately succeeds as an engrossing and oddly entertaining moment in American history. That’s not to imply that it looks at the 2004 election as a farce, or that it takes any partisan side. It’s not about Bush versus Kerry—in fact, neither of them rate more than a scarce mention, and that only as side notes in the frenetic pacing of the documentary. It’s not even about politics, at least not in the way it’s usually covered in film. Election Day instead focuses on the real power, that being the citizenry of America, that make this democracy work.

After the debacle that was the 2000 election, director Katy Chevigny set out to make a film that focused not on the political wranglings that make the mainstream news, but rather on the more intimate concerns of the American public. To that end, she organized film crews in eleven cities, each representing a unique mindset that nonetheless resonates with the collective concerns of Americans today. From Chicago, where a Republican poll-watcher rails against the Democrat machine there, to New York, where a fifty-year old ex-con gets to vote for the first time in his life, to Florida and Ohio, where volunteers keep a vigilant eye on the vote, to South Dakota, where Native Americans are urged to cast their vote, to rural Minnesota where every vote is considered important—Election Day is a tapestry of snapshots from across America, united by the fundamental belief that each and every vote is important.

Election Day, largely because of its rapid cutting from one locale to another, is more thriller than documentary. There are no requisite talking heads interviews, no journalist commentaries, no slant left or right. There are only people, in their individual ways, doing their part to make sure that America stands as a democracy. It’s an inspiring tale that illustrates that Americans are more vigilant about the process than they’re often given credit for. That it premieres just prior to Independence Day makes it all the more poignant. It gives hope that the contentious nature of Americans ensures that the country is just getting its second wind.