By Rod Bastanmehr
It was one of the most controversial political events in recent history, and nearly eight years later, it still holds the same dramatic weight that it did back in 2000. Now, Cowell College is screening a documentary that hopes to bring attention to what has since been regarded as one of the biggest democratic blunders in American history.
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, as part of a three-film series, Cowell College screened American Blackout, a documentary chronicling the voting irregularities that plagued the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections. The film, directed by Ian Inaba and produced by Anastasia King, was the Special Jury Prize selection at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
“The UCSC colleges all have a wide range of civically-oriented events and programs, but in our case, we have a focus on issues of social justice,” said Tyrus Miller, the Cowell College provost responsible for bringing the three-part electoral screenings to UC Santa Cruz.
When asked why Cowell is at the center of the political film movement, he said, “We really try to encourage Cowell students to be informed and socially involved. So screening the films seemed like a natural part of programming at Cowell.”
The film, which has won a bevy of awards since its release in early 2006, follows Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who not only took an active role in investigating the 2000 and 2004 election debacles, but also found herself caught in the middle of major public backlash after publicly questioning the Bush administration about the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
American Blackout brutally examines contemporary tactics used to control our democratic process and silence political dissent, and documentary director Inaba never shies away from showing us the seedy political underbelly that McKinney comes across — at its core, Blackout is epic in its honesty.
But while it holds political significance, and remains a masterstroke in modern documentary filmmaking, is American Blackout’s message still culturally relevant?
“We’re still in the wake of what the events of 2000 and 2004 caused,” said Jeremy Regan, a third-year political science major. “The series of events put into motion have lead to today’s involvement with Iraq, our possible future involvement with Iran. Everything in the current political stratosphere was molded by the events of those two elections.”
Miller agrees, citing that we are still within the active term of the president elected under the 2000 election, but is quick to point out the film’s dominant message: “…the more important thing the film argues is that Florida was only a spectacular example of a breakdown of the voting system, but by no means an isolated one. And if we believe that democracy depends on the right to vote being granted equally and fairly to all citizens, then we have to take seriously any instance in which voters are being denied that right.”
There is little doubt that the timing of these political screenings is meant to coincide with the upcoming 2008 elections.
While on the eve of arguably one of the most important political decisions in recent decades, Miller points out that the screenings are meant to inspire as well as teach. “We want students to vote for whomever they feel represents them best, but we also want them to think about the process and what they are doing when they cast a vote,” he said. “This film makes you reflect, and not just assume that all is well out in the country with our electoral system.”
Miller isn’t naïve, however; he acknowledges that it will take more than a trilogy of political screenings to get students involved. “I’d love to say that a film could do all that, but let’s be honest: getting students involved in the political process requires more initiative than just a film screening or two,” he said. “Ultimately, it requires the activism and initiative of students themselves.”
American Blackout was the first of the three screenings. Hacking Democracy, the second, will be shown at the end of January. For now, students are taking notice. “I think this election has been a lot more in the minds of the youth, since it involves a woman and an African-American,” said Rachel Albraster, a first-year at UCSC. “But the film showed me that it’s more than just the candidates you’re voting for – it’s the system. You can’t risk losing either.”
The same can be said about these screenings.
_For more information about ending the blackout, visit http://www.americanblackout.com._