October 22, 2008

Vote Film 2008

Election Screenings Spark Discussion

By By Cristy Lytal

Hero/villain, life/death, war/peace, love/hate—every election cycle one of life’s greatest dramas plays out in the U.S. political process. In the run-up to the 2008 contest, SCA students, faculty and alumni saw that drama unfold on the big screen during the Vote Film screening series.

"Vote Film is a way of saying, okay, let's come together and raise awareness that this is an election cycle and involve young people in the process," said Senior Lecturer Brenda Goodman, who spearheaded the series in both 2004 and 2008. "There have been wonderful films about the elections, and let's show some of these films, and let's invite people to speak and begin a dialogue about film, politics, elections and hopefully get people to the polls," she added.

Alumnus Jay Roach '86, kicked off the four-week event on October 2, with a screening of Recount, his Emmy-winning documentary about the mayhem surrounding the Bush-Gore election eight years ago.

While the 2000 election is in the past, Roach was quick to point out that election fraud isn't. "People forgot about this recount because of September 11th," he said. "And it's really important to remind people."

To illustrate his point, Roach cited the example of legal disclaimers that Florida has instituted in its voter registration process, which can be very difficult for non-native English speakers to understand. The state, "in a very calculated way made having English not as your first language a problem for registering," Roach said.

He also mentioned another Florida regulation that enables the Sunshine state to levy a $1,000 fine against voter registration groups for every person's application that isn't properly completed. As a result of the rule, the League of Women Voters pulled out of Florida.

USC, SCA alum Jay Roach with Kevin Spacey on the set of Recount.
The state, said Roach, "just systematically and very shrewdly figured out how to prevent a certain kind of democratic voter from voting."

Despite Recount’s detailed exploration of dimpled chad and electoral bylaws, Roach managed to craft the movie like a thriller. He described the films of director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) and a Hitchcock class he took while at USC as some of his major influences.

"It's amazing how suspenseful it is even though we know the outcome," observed SCA Professor and Oscar-winning documentary maker Mark Harris, who led the post-screening discussion.

Fourth-year production student Tess Ortbals, who assisted Goodman in putting together the series, expressed deep concern about these infringements on the right to vote.

"The most important message I took away is that we cannot be complacent," Ortbals said. "There are certain things that we take for granted in our electoral life, and we have to be diligent. We all have to have a voice, and we all have to make it heard. I mean, the fact that the whole world stopped for a couple of weeks for a recount, and they never really got to recount, blows my mind. It wasn't a matter of who won or who lost or who could have won. It was the fact that we couldn't even do the due process."

The Vote Film series also features Shampoo (October 16, followed by Q&A with Professor Doe Mayer and Professor Robert Jones, who edited the film), Election Day (October 23, followed by a Q&A with director Katy Chevigny), and Election (October 30, followed by a Q&A with writer-director Alexander Payne.) The series will culminate with a viewing of the election coverage on November 4. Admission is free, and all events are held in Lucas 108 at 7 p.m.