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Call It Democracy cover photo

Call It Democracy 2005

Not Recommended

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Producer n/a
Directed by Matthew Kohn
DVD, color, 88 min.

College - Adult
Political Science

Date Entered: 09/12/2007

Reviewed by Timothy W. Kneeland, History and Political Science Department, Nazareth College of Rochester, Rochester, NY

If you are looking for a well balanced, concise study of the election of 2000 its implications for the U.S. electoral system and the reform legislation embodied in the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA ), than Call it Democracy is not the film for you. Unfortunately, this documentary promises much and delivers little.

The bulk of the documentary is a study of the election of 2000: including the inherent problems in the existing electoral system, the battle of Bush v Gore in the Supreme Court, and a consideration of whether conservative politics trumped the constitution in determining the outcome of Bush v Gore. Leading the filmmaker to ask, can we call this democracy? The ideas raised are interesting but the film is not.

Using footage from the networks, which at times looks like it was taped on VHS from a television with poor reception, the film intersperses news footage with interviews shot in amateurish lighting and using less than expert camera work. From time to time graphics, of somewhat poor quality, are used to underscore a quote or provide a factoid. The interviews, the bulk of which come from progressive academic luminaries such as Alan Dershowitz, David Greenburg, and Jeffrey Rosen or journalists such as John Nichols of the Nation and Greg Palast of the BBC, are marred by the use of melodramatic and rather uninteresting background music that threatens more often than not to drown out the talking heads. The interviews also lack a tight editorial hand which would have helped move the narrative along. Despite the addition of footage of conservative Richard Posner and the excellent contextual explanation of the 2000 election by Marci Hamilton of Cardozo law School, the film can hardly be called a balanced treatment of the subject. Indeed, Director Matt Kohn, early in the documentary admits to being obsessed with the election of 2000. Alas his obsession led him astray and the film has an inordinate display of liberal America gnashing their teeth at the election of George W. Bush.

The film, for all its flaws in the first two-thirds of the documentary, nearly redeems itself in the last third, which looks at the development of the very flawed Help American Vote Act (HAVA). Although the interviews are still in need of tighter editorial control, this part of the film provides fascinating glimpses into the complexities of holding an election that is fair for all. Here, we have fewer of the well known academics or journalists, and more “average “people involved in running elections. Yet, once again the filmmaker was over mastered by the material and the end-result lacks a narrative focus and balanced perspective which diminishes the other fine qualities.

Not recommended.