Film : U.S. elections seen from the outside
Vineyard moviegoers have an unusual chance to see and influence a new documentary, "The Election Game," that will be previewed publicly for the first time on Saturday, Nov. 1, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. The Italian-made film offers a look from the outside at the American election process as it has unfolded over the last 18 months. The film's producer, Emi Norris of Cinetic Media, will answer questions at the screening and solicit feedback that will be taken into account before releasing the final version.
The film's director, Riccardo Romani, originally from Naples, Italy, has been based in New York for the past 14 years. In a telephone interview last week while he was still editing, he explained what inspired him to make the film.
"A lot of [American election] stuff was a mystery to me," he said. "This is a little bit of a guide to American elections for dummies."
In fact, it is far more than that.
"If I were American, I would like to see how elections really are, the backstage of the process," Mr. Romani said. "It's a bit of a trick - a little bit like looking in a mirror."
As an example, he pointed out that retired General Wesley Clark - interviewed in the film - said American politicians don't talk about poverty because poverty doesn't bring any votes.
In its initial form, "The Election Game" was produced as a six-part TV series for the Italian branch of Britain's Sky News. The goal was to explain to a European audience how the U.S. election process works, beginning with what happened in Ohio in 2004 and Florida in 2000. It also explores how issues such as Iraq and the current financial crisis are playing into the 2008 race. The TV series ran in Italy last May and will air there again next month.
The views of 50 Americans involved in the election process form the core of the film. "We were trying not to go for celebrities," Mr. Romani said. "We needed people from both sides who were committed to the idea of this project."
He interviewed George W. Bush's spiritual advisor, Kirbyjon Caldwell, who is supporting Barack Obama, and to Britt Craig and Jim Gilchrist, members of a The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a vigilante group devoted to securing United States borders against illegal immigration.
Others interviewed include "Democracy Now!" anchor Amy Goodman, former United States Senator Gary Hart, and Hassan Jaber, Executive Director of ACCESS, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.
The film covers the American voting system, the federal government's financial sources spending recording, the role of the media and their impact, what it is that Americans vote for, and how to build a candidate from a nobody into a credible frontrunner.
Realizing that the TV series could enjoy a lifespan well beyond the November 4 election, Mr. Romani condense it into an 80-minute English-language film, which is what Vineyarders will see and respond to on Saturday.
The director emphasized that he made no prejudgments, had no particular agenda, nor did he begin with any assumption that the European electoral systems are better than the American one.
Mr. Romani plans to show the film at festivals and said he is in talks with distributors about screenings on TV. "It will be interesting to have feedback from an audience," he said about the Vineyard screening, although another project will make him unable to attend."The Election Game," Saturday, Nov. 1, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. Tickets at the door: $8; $5 for Martha's Vineyard Film Society members. Doors open at 7 pm.
Brooks Robards regularly writes on books, film, and art for The Martha's Vineyard Times.