When is a vote really not a vote? Well, plenty of the time, it seems, sadly and frighteningly. A sort of political companion piece to Alex Gibney’s Sundance-minted 2005 documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which at its most basic level shrewdly tackled the inanity and insanity of corporate culture, Stealing America: Vote by Vote looks at the ludicrousness of the election process, and its extreme, and increasing, fallibility in the digital age.
Bringing together behind-the-scenes perspectives from the U.S. presidential election of 2004 — plus startling stories from key Congressional races in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006 — the film sheds light on almost a full decade of vote counts that don’t match votes cast (3.4 million from the 2004 election, or a total of 2.7 percent of the total number of ballots cast). In the shadows of another hugely important national election — and one seemingly destined to be close, at least electorally — it’s hard to imagine a more topical, important documentary.
Narrated by Peter Coyote, the film cold-starts rather awkwardly, and for a while seems merely a timely yet staid classroom filmstrip. Eventually, though, as anecdotal incidents scattered like marbles seemingly reveal a larger behavioral pattern, Stealing America gathers energy, focus and an angsty head of steam. Director Dorothy Fadiman has the natural advantage, of numbers and narrative, on her side, so she doesn’t need to really take an antagonistic stance or pump too much showmanship into her project. And she doesn’t; she’s the anti-Michael Moore in this regard. Unfortunately, Fadiman also has some trouble initially locating the pulse of her tale, and structuring things to make the big picture clear. In the end, though, Stealing America still swings a heavy bat — the issue wins out, and carries the day, and because of that the movie’s not inconsiderable shortcomings matter a lot less than they would were the subject matter different. For the full review, from H Magazine, click here. More to follow next week, in the form of interview tidbits with Fadiman and Leon County Florida State Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho. (Direct Cinema Limited, unrated, 90 minutes)