Brian Whitney
MFF’10 Preview

Gerrymandering

By - Sep 26th, 2010 04:00 am
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Gerrymandering is a rare breed of political documentary, in that it is entirely free of party bias. The entire point of this film is to shed some light on a somewhat obscure political process that has a huge effect on our country’s elections in a manner that, by definition, is egregiously unfair.

Photo Courtesy of Green Film Company

The film defines the term “gerrymandering” as the redrawing of voting districts “so as to give unfair advantage to one party in elections.” It is a practice that dates back to the early 1800s, when then-Governor of Massacusetts Elbridge Gerry (‘gerrymander’ being a mix of ‘Gerry’ and ‘salamander’) redrew the districts of his state before a senatorial election.

The film begins with this story, but frames itself around more recent incidents, such as the 2003 Texas State Legislature and its redistricting under Tom Delay, and the 2008 California ballot measure “Prop 11,” which was intended to put the task of redrawing districts in the hands of a non-partisan third party group.

Director Jeff Reichert paces the film well, and what could have turned into a dull history lesson is instead a witty, engaging piece of work. The film’s ultimate message, quite simply that “Gerrymandering is bad,” at times comes across too bluntly, but the film still manages to hold the viewer’s attention and can inspire a wide variety of emotions.

Mr. Reichert also does an excellent job of selecting a diverse group of politicians to interview about the topic. From liberals such as Howard Dean and across the aisle to conservatives like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the common thread of the interview subjects is their relevance to the current political landscape.

Also helping along the entertainment and emotional value of the film are some of the smaller-scale tales of gerrymandering. The viewer learns of New York State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and how his own block was redrawn after a race that was too close for an incumbent candidate’s liking. We also learn how the same process in the state of Illinois both hurt and helped the career of a young Barack Obama in his first two elections.

Ultimately, Gerrymandering isn’t a film for liberals or conservatives. Rather, it is for those who are interested in the world of politics and, more specifically, how politicians bend the rules to protect themselves at the expense of the principles of democracy. While that message may occasionally come across in a heavy-handed manner, this film provides an entertaining yet informative look into a political process few laypeople are familiar with. In doing so, it becomes an important documentary for any American citizen.

Gerrymandering screens tonight, Sept. 26 at 6:45 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre, and also at the Marcus North Shore Cinema on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 3:15 p.m. For tickets and info, click here.

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