By Mathius Mack Gertz
What is democracy? Freedom, equality, participation? Everyone has his or her own definition. Across the world, 120 countries now have at least the minimum trappings of democracy-the freedom to vote for all citizens. But for many this is just the beginning, not the end. Following decades of US backed dictatorships, civil wars and devastating structural adjustment policies in the South, and corporate control, electoral corruption, and fraud in the North, representative politics in the Americas is in a crisis. Citizens are now choosing to redefine democracy under their own terms: local, direct and participatory.
Beyond Electionsis a journey that takes us across the Americas to attempt to answer one of the most important questions of our time: What is Democracy?
While the material and journey that Beyond Elections takes us on is incredibly important; the technical filmmaking is documentarian in the older style of talking heads and long uncut scenes that many younger U.S. Americans are no longer patient with. At 114 minutes it is on the long side for U.S. audiences more accustomed to sound bites and short-form news and information. Most of the structural problems are in the middle of the film where Director/editors Fox and Leindecker repeatedly go back and forth to local citizens to allow them to fully explain their projects and results. It suffers from a combination of spoon feeding and hitting us over the head with just the facts…man. Again we see why filmmaking is supposed to be a collaborative effort. Having a third person with a strong story telling sense as editor would have saved Beyond Elections.
On the other hand there is nothing wrong with Beyond Elections that cutting out about twenty minutes of the above wouldn’t solve. And that can be very easily done by the viewer with the DVD fast forward button. The local projects that are going on all across the two American continents are fascinating and at times riveting. Particularly in light of the grass roots style of the Obama election of 2008, the recent reach out that President Obama has given to America’s leaders at the 2009 Summit of the Americas, the derivatives debacle and world wide financial collapse. Oh, excuse me… financial adjustment. This is an extremely important piece of documentary filmmaking and is deserving of a look by anyone interested in the future of democracy in this century.
Beyond Elections is an important asset for teachers of American history and democracy, community organizers, participatory citizens and grass roots activists. And it would also be nice if a nativist or two took a look. Even though I can only give it three stars, I highly recommend making the time to see it.