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  October 14-17, 2004

Direct Democracy: The Presidential Election on Screen

As election day approaches, images of the American presidential candidates are omnipresent. This series looks at a selection of fiction and nonfiction works which consider the dynamics of the modern election. Organized by the 4 C’s of any election: candidates, campaigns, conventions and counts, the series reveals the dynamics of the modern campaign in which the medium far outweighs the message.

Special thanks to J.D. Connor and Rick Prelinger.

October 14 (Thursday) 7 pm


Directed by Robert Drew
US, 1960, b/w, 53 min.

The 1960 Wisconsin Democratic Primary provides the backdrop for the first major American film produced by the Drew Associates – a collective of documentary filmmakers which included D.A. Pennebaker, Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles. John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey engage in some good old-fashioned “retail politics” to win every vote they can in this crucial election. The direct cinema style provides access not only to the inner workings of the respective campaigns but also to the varied mindset of the electorate.

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Director Shola Lynch in Person

Chisholm ’72 — Unbought & Unbossed

Directed by Shola Lynch
US, 2004, color, 75 min.

Chisholm ’72 — Unbought & Unbossed is the first historical documentary on Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and her campaign to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 1972. The film follows Chisholm from the announcement of her candidacy in January to the Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida in July.
Shunned by the political establishment, the candidate asked people of color, feminists and young voters for their support to “reshape our society and take control of our destiny as we go down the Chisholm Trail in 1972.” To the surprise of many, voters responded.

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October 15 (Friday) 7 pm


Directed by Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway
US, 1992, color, 76 min.

In the television age, political debates occur in mediated arenas where candidates are asked to divulge their positions on hot button issues in prescribed amounts of time. The gaze of an audience member is not half as threatening as the gaze of a video camera. Kevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway’s compilation of some commonly unseen moments of the 1992 political primary features Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Pat Buchanan, among others. In this attempt to capture the true character of some important politicos, live satellite feeds not generally accessible to the public show the candidates with their guards down acting in ways inappropriate for network television. Painstakingly edited from hours of footage, Feed is at points hilarious and shocking, and always interesting.

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October 15 (Friday) 8:30 pm

The War Room

Directed by Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker
US, 1993, color, 96 min.

Before their days of political punditry, James Carville and George Stephanopoulos seemed to come out of nowhere to orchestrate one of the biggest upsets in election history. In D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ 1993 film The War Room, Carville and Stephanopoulos are shown running Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign from the New Hampshire primaries, through the Democratic National Convention, and on to his election night victory. Veteran filmmaker Pennebaker excels at both showing how campaigns are won, and divulging the true natures of the people that win them.

Campaign Manager

Directed by Richard Leacock and Richard E. Parmentel, Jr.
Us, 1964, b/w, 25 min.

Leacock and Parmentel examine the grueling day-to-day activities of John Grenier, the twenty-eight year old executive director of the Republican National Committee, credited with engineering the Goldwater takeover of the 1964 Republican Presidential Convention in San Francisco.

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October 16 (Saturday) 7 pm

Medium Cool

Directed by Haskell Wexler
US, 1969, color, 111 min.
With With Robert Forster, Verna Bloom, Peter Boyle

The directorial debut of veteran cinematographer Haskell Wexler, Medium Cool is a landmark independent production that makes canny use of documentary techniques in constructing a fiction feature. Set in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the narrative focuses on a television cameraman (Forster) who becomes personally involved with the people and stories he covers, including a black cabbie, a single mother from Appalachia (Bloom), and a group of protesters who clash with the police outside the convention hall. Designed as a “wedding between features and cinéma vérité,” Wexler’s attempt to smuggle political reality into a theatrical tale faced significant challenges from distributors, critics, and censors but has survived as an important witness to its times.

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October 16 (Saturday) 9 pm

The Best Man

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
US, 1964, b/w, 102 min.
With With Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Edie Adams

Based on Gore Vidal’s stage play, this behind-the-scenes portrait of a presidential convention examines the deal-making and back-stabbing that are all part of the political game. Five men, including characters loosely based on real life politicos such as Adlai Stevenson (Fonda), Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon (both personified by Robertson) vie for the coveted slot of nominee. When the candidates dig up dirt on their competitors, they must decide how far they will go to win the prize. Vidal’s biting view of contemporary political figures is as timely today as it was forty years ago.

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October 17 (Sunday) 7 pm

Trouble in Paradise

Directed by Laurel Greenberg
US, 2004, color, 77 min.

Trouble in Paradise is a real-life drama unfolding in the chaotic landscape of Florida politics. Motivated by a sense of civic responsibility, five Floridians volunteer on campaigns, run for office, sue the state, and revisit the disturbing facts and unanswered questions of the historic 2000 election that changed their lives. Over two years following the election, some laws have changed, new voting machines have been installed, and yet the problems mount, the allegations and lawsuits continue. Boston-based filmmaker Laurel Greenberg examines how the people of Florida have reacted to this ongoing political upheaval and questions measures to present further corruption of the electoral process.

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Behind the Freedom Curtain

US, 1957, color, 18 min.

Brought to you by the Automatic Voting Machine Company, this industrial film, screening courtesy of the Prelinger Archives, extols the virtues of the latest technology in voting machines, designed to forever erase the flaws of the paper ballot and uphold the integrity of the electoral process…at least until the year 2000.

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