Directed By: Jeff Deutchman
It’s quite obvious that the way we record history has changed drastically. Now, anyone armed not even with a video camera, but with a cell phone alone can call him or herself a journalist or filmmaker. While this type of rogue footage has flooded newscasts, little has made its way into feature length documentaries. It’s about time someone opted to ditch the formal interviews, animated graphics and tedious music and just recreate an event using on-the-scene footage. Let’s hope what director Jeff Deutchman did with his documentary 11/4/08 catches on because we’ll ensure historic events are retold in the utmost accurate and telling manner.
Just before Election Day 2008, Deutchman reached out to friends throughout the world asking them to video their experience on November 4th, 2008, the day they witnessed the first black president being elected to office. Footage came in from everywhere from New York to Dubai, most of which depicts enthusiastic voters, devoted Barack Obama supporters and wild victory parties. We watch on as Illinois residents try to catch a glimpse of the current president arriving to cast his vote, a family from Homer, Alaska gathers around the television to watch the results where even the youngest member is fully invested in the event, a street party in Brooklyn goes awry resulting in police action and much more.
Some of the video is quite amateurish while some is clearly shot with higher-grade equipment, but combined, all styles are rather fluid and maintain a warm home video type of atmosphere. One portion of the film focuses entirely on a cell phone while one contributor in Los Angeles talks to his mother, who he amusingly labels “Mommy Poo,” about her run-in with former president Bill Clinton. There’s an interesting debate in Manhattan regarding whether or not the vote of just one person really matters and later on that same group discusses the legality of Starbucks’ free coffee for voters policy while indulging in the deal themselves.
Even with this fantastic compilation of anecdotes, 11/4/08 is lacking in a few areas, namely the representation of the other side of the spectrum. Deutchman didn’t necessarily have to include John McCain supporters in the piece, but a few more Obama supporters who weren’t swept away by his “Yes We Can” campaign would have helped frame the atmosphere a little more accurately. There are a small handful of people who acknowledge their skepticism explaining that hopes are too high and so much change is impossible, but of the bunch, just one is particularly memorable. One man in Berlin points a finger directly at the slogans blaming them for creating an unattainable amount of hope that is simply impossible to achieve.
Even with this slight deficiency, 11/4/08 is a wholly fascinating film in large part due to the way Deutchman put the piece together. He amassed a team including total amateurs to more familiar names like Catfish co-director Henry Joost and several other independent filmmakers. Rather than provide a shot list or even a detailed briefing, he merely sent out an e-mail calling for footage of everything from voting to returns-watching. It was left to the individual whether or not he or she would go the observational route or make direct contact and interview citizens. Based on the final product, it’s quite clear that Deutchman’s videographers used a wide variety of techniques and that’s one of the best parts of the film. This isn’t a narrative and isn’t even a documentary reliant on a story arc; it merely uses the time of day to take the viewer from beginning to end and if it weren’t for the unique viewpoints of the crew, the material could become quite monotonous. However, that’s far from the case here. Even with knowing the outcome of the events there’s a curiosity to find out what the next subject will say or how things went down in a particular location, in the US and abroad.
The best part of 11/4/08? It ends with the message, “This film is incomplete. Send me your footage.” 11/4/08 is a documentary unlike any other. We have no talking heads, no narration, no music, no rendered still images, no reenactments, just actual honest footage from the day. Deutchman really seized the opportunity to put the concept that just about anyone could be a filmmaker nowadays to use and the results are profound. Not only does the film make for an interesting watch, but it’ll serve as a richly telling piece showing what really happened during this monumental day in history for years and years to come.
Acting (Interviewing): B+
By Perri Nemiroff