Billed as a “participatory documentary,” a work-in-progress, nonfiction snapshot assembled and edited by Jeff Deutchman, 11/4/08 chronicles a day around the world, leading up to the presidential election of Barack Obama. The film, which premiered earlier this year at the South by Southwest
Festival, screens tonight in Los Angeles at the Laemmle
Claremont 5, Monica 4-Plex, Playhouse 7, Town Center 5 and Sunset 5 theaters, and
is available this week across various digital download platforms, including iTunes, AmazonVOD,
CinemaNow and more.
Two weeks before the election of Obama, filmmaker Deutchman
asked friends and acquaintances all over the globe to record their experiences of the 2008 Election Day, a day that in many ways had an impending sense of being “historic” before any history at all had even really taken
place. After collecting footage from a combination of passionate amateurs
and acclaimed independent filmmakers — the latter group including Margaret
Brown, Joe Swanberg, Benh Zeitlin and Henry Joost, one of the co-directors of Catfish — Deutchman then went about working up a vérité narrative that skips to and fro, offering an impressionistic, bird’s eye view of the groundswell feeling of momentous change against a sometimes humdrum backdrop of workaday domesticity and regular hustle-and-bustle.
Ostensibly, the film’s chief selling point is that it trades in emotionality rather than some sort of strict, imposed-from-on-high narrative. It depicts idealistic volunteers in St. Louis and Austin working to turn their states
blue; voting lines in Chicago snaking around the block; and young kids, in Alaska and elsewhere, who seem invested in
the election results. One Los Angeles participant even films his cell phone as he talks to his gobsmacked mother, who ran into Bill Clinton while going to cast her vote.
There’s a sort of plebian engagement and value in these collected snapshots, but they don’t really fit together in any compelling fashion. The chief problem, of course, is that, removed from the rarefied air of a historical Democratic primary and general election campaign, the United States is still (and probably even more so) in a place of retrenched partisan grenade lobbing, so any and all attempts 11/4/08 makes at grabbing or inducing joy feel hopelessly leaden, stacked up against the real world outside. Apart from the Republican Party’s unwillingness to engage in any reasonable partnership of governance, and Fox News’ typical idiocy and still ongoing smear campaign of hysterical pitch and volume, Obama is saddled with the crushing reality of very real problems — a tattered economy, small business enmity, and a war in Afghanistan that is dragging on and possibly widening, to name but a few.
While some Stateside anecdotal bits are fascinating (an Indiana canvasser relating the shared story of a voter who believes Black Panthers will actually be killing people at the polls), and others still emotionally tangible and relevant (an African-American volunteer talking about friendships formed during the campaign), the film is most successful when it moves away from mere moment-in-time noodling, and tries to connect both rhetoric and action to the actual deeper feelings and motivations driving them. By and large, this means when the film casts a glance across the Atlantic Ocean, where expatriates and foreign citizens alike express their opinions on the election. Women in Switzerland note that it is “young people who build the future,” and a gentleman in New Delhi talks about the enduring power of America’s ideals.
It’s this material that most provides important context. Political partisans on the far right may regard the aura of hope and optimism attached to Obama’s election as false, misplaced or foolish, but it was certainly real, and no less ridiculous than clubby, rallying blue-hairs feeling safe and sentimental about their country (and their place in it, specifically) when Republicans were ringing up presidential wins in five out of the previous seven contests. In clinging to the notion that Obama was or still is an avatar, and only an empty vessel for the mantle of “change,” there is a fundamental failure to acknowledge and respect his considerable intellect and political gifts, certainly, but also recognize and embrace the dream of American possibility — the dream children need to carry forward in the world, which is in turn actually a worldwide dream. It’s a snapshot of why we matter, essentially — a robust, living example of American exceptionalism. For more information, click here. (Film Buff/Consensual Cinema, unrated, 70 minutes)