“I didn’t realize the weight of it until after the results came out.”
Once every four years, the most powerful people in the United States agree to hand over the reigns of said power willingly, to whoever gets the most likes. I mean votes. I mean, electoral votes. Oversimplified, yes, but holy cow, in it’s basic sense, American democracy is based on one crazy premise. There’s a lot at stake during any election, from last night's midterms to last year's presidential race. In a country as big as the United States, you’ll get a lot of different reactions to the results.
That’s exactly what producer Jeff Deutchman hoped to capture when he commissioned a handful of directors to follow average Americans throughout the Election Day of 2016, exactly one year ago today. The finished film, released this week and titled 11/8/16, captures a cross-section of genuinely different political, social, and cultural perspectives.
Under the skillful eye of some 18 acclaimed documentary directors, the film is a reminder of the increasingly interesting blur between journalism and art. Having pieced together this broad collection of characters, a few directors on the project gave No Film School an inside look as to who they chose to follow on this momentous day, and why.
Filmmaker Bassam Tariq (These Birds Walk) followed Sikh cab driver Amrit Palsingh in Queens, NY, as he goes through his day in a community he loves.
"The Sikh community gets sidestepped in a lot of conversations dealing with Islamophobia and they have been the ones who have felt the brunt of attacks after 9/11," refects Tariq. "This project is cathartic. Sobering. I didn’t realize the weight of it until after the results came out. Me and Amrit (my subject) were just hanging out and thinking of fun ways of how we could end the night with Hillary’s win. The night didn’t end that way; for one, Amrit fell asleep before the results came out and, yeah, Clinton didn’t win. I hope people see the Sikh faith as a beautiful expression of American pluralism. They stretch my imagination of what it means to be American."
"They stretch my imagination of what it means to be American."
Filmmaker Alma Har’el (Bombay Beach) profiled the head of video on the Hillary Clinton campaign, Sierra Kos, whose day started with an interview of then-president Barack Obama.
"I met Sierra a few years ago, when she worked for Facebook and I was directing a campaign for Mark Zuckerberg's initiative, Internet.org," says Har'el. "We were in India, Indonesia, and Bolivia together in some of the poorest places in the world, that never had access to the internet. It was a trip that you remember, and we stayed in touch."
Therefore, when When Deutchman approached Har'el about participating, Kos was the first person who came to her mind. Har'el admits, "It was a long process to get it approved, but in the end we managed to spend the day with her. It was obviously one of the most challenging days of my life. We started the day in Washington, where Sierra was filming Obama's video urging people to vote. As I was filming, I noticed a dark black cloud hovering over the White House and it ended up opening the trailer of the film. I felt like I knew that Hillary lost at that moment."
It was obviously one of the most challenging days of my life.
Filmmaker Martha Shane (After Tiller) followed DREAMer and community activist Jesus Ruiz, and also served as one of the two editors on the film, giving her an omniscient look at the project.
"In the lead up to election day," Shane recalls, "it was impossible to miss the extremist rhetoric on immigration coming out of the Donald Trump campaign.'Build a wall!' became a campaign rallying cry, and promises of a Muslim ban were ubiquitous. So when I was thinking about who had the most at stake in the election, I immediately thought about immigrants to the US."
Through friends at the ACLU's Immigration Project, Shane was put in touch with Jesus Ruiz, a community organizer and DREAMer at PACT (People Acting in Community Together) in San Jose. The filmmaker says, "Neither Jesus nor I (nor anyone we encountered during the day) expected the election to turn out the way it did. But it was powerful to watch Jesus' organizing skills in action at the end of long and emotional night, when he spoke to his organization's members, rallying their spirits, reframing the election as a wake-up call, and reminding everyone that the "power of the people is greater than the people in power."
"When I was thinking about who had the most at stake in the election, I immediately thought about immigrants to the US."
Filmmaker Ciara Lacy (Out of State) explains how she found her subjects while looking for someone in a homeless camp.
"Right around the time we filmed for 11/8/16, I was searching for a friend who had fallen into homelessness and was difficult to find," Lacey shares. "I took to the homeless encampments around town to look for him, which led me to [film subjects] Vernon and Lori. Their kind, humble nature, and their openness drew me to want to work with them. I wanted to know: how important is something like the presidential election when you’re struggling to survive?"
"I wanted to know: how important is something like the presidential election when you’re struggling to survive?"
"Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, or otherwise, 11/8/16 is the kind of movie that grabs you and is almost impossible to look away from," concludes Lacey. "It is a remarkable portrait of our country, a sometimes near-shocking reminder of how different we all are, and a wake-up call forcing us to think about the future we all want."
What would people give to see and hear from this kind of cross-section of Americans on the eve of the Presidential Election of 1860, an election so controversial that following the results, eleven states seceded from the Union, leading us into a full-blown civil war? We could learn a lot. Thanks to filmmakers pushing documentary forward into new and meaningful territory, we can now capture this massive moment in American history as it unfolds across the country. 11/8/16 is an interesting film now, and imagine its value in say, a hundred years.
Check the film out for yourself, and see if it inspires you to think about the viewpoints that make up the American public.
Would you undertake a project like this in the future with filmmakers from across the country on the eve an important event? How would you choose your subject? Let us know in the comments.