Electoral Dysfunction (2012)
dir. Leslie D. Farrell, Bennett Singer, David Deschamps
Starring: Mo Rocca
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein." - Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982. Canadian Charter of Rights and FreedomsThose paragons of freedom - Iran, Libya and Chechnya - do NOT guarantee the right to vote. Thankfully, democracy rules the day in most of the world's leading nations. Countries of every stripe, from Canada to South Africa and beyond, all officially guarantee their citizens the right to vote.
The United States of America, however, does not offer this right to its citizens. In fact, take a humungous magnifying glass (as Mo Rocca does quite literally in the film Electoral Dysfunction) to peruse the hallowed document that spewed forth a new nation: There's not a single reference to the right of its citizenry to vote anywhere in the "hallowed" American Constitution.
The nation's founding fathers wrote and signed a constitution bearing one simple point - the House of Representatives are to be elected. End of story. How and by whom is nowhere to be found. Amendments involving issues of discrimination in the voting process also half-heartedly exist, though none explicitly state the obvious.
The simple, clear words guaranteeing the right to vote are not. They exist only in the imaginations of those Americans who think it is their God-and-constitutional-given right to do so.
This is but one of many odd things I learned about our neighbours to the south in the new television documentary entitled Electoral Dysfunction. The movie is a cheerful, breezy and informative exploration into the mess that is the American electoral process. Every state has its own rules and methods of allowing people to vote and in recent elections this has reared its head in very ugly ways - leading to the clearly illegal theft of Al Gore's win over George W. Bush and the improprieties exercised in the 2008 election.
Using the witty and winning Mo Rocca, a former Daily Show correspondent as our host through the gumbo that is American politics was a good move. The camera clearly loves Rocca and he's someone we feel comfortable with as our tour guide. The mistake the film makes - and it's one that seriously detracts from the picture's wholehearted success - is that the picture strives too hard to be satirical.
For satire to work, one must be committed to it without restraint. Furthermore, we cannot see its artists trying too hard to be satirically funny. Seeing the seams of knee-slapping inducement is a sloppy, easy way to elicit a response.
Electoral Dysfunction, with its annoyingly jaunty, tongue-in-cheek musical score and an even more troublesome insistence upon journalistic balance, results in a movie with no clear voice (like most "good TV"). It's on one hand cold and removed, while on the other, it tries too hard to be "entertaining".
Rocca has a voice, mind you, but it always seems that his style is being cramped by the film's dullsville lack of style and a narrative arc that's a whole lot slighter and tenuous than it needs to be.
More importantly, I find it disturbing that the movie doesn't delve deeper than the skin of the topic. I wanted someone - ANYONE - to take a stand right from the beginning as to WHY this electoral dysfunction exists.
Just how and where is this dysfunction rooted? What will it lead to? Why did the country's founding fathers avoid the issue of basic voting rights?
Given the near-Third-World state America is in due to 9/11, the massive financial frauds and the more insidious desires of corporate America to cull the world population down to 2 billion people, any movie dealing with the issue of electoral dysfunction needs to meet - head-on - why it is in the interests of very few to keep democracy at bay.
The movie doesn't do any of this in a meaningful way. That said, it's a decent enough, info-packed springboard for further discussion and study on the matter. Maybe someone out there with some style and genuine devil-may-care chutzpah will take this fascinating and vital issue to the next level.
"Electoral Dysfunction is currently playing at the Montreal World Film Festival:
31 August 2012 • 12h30 • CINÉMA ONF
1 September 2012 • 21h30 • CINÉMA ONF
2 September 2012 • 14h30 • CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 15
It will enjoy a limited theatrical release at the Quad in New York, followed by broadcast on PBS.