11/4/08 Review

When I first heard about Jeff Deutchman’s 11/4/08 project I was instantly interested. Not only did it interest me in subject matter (I love political documentaries) but by the approach and, specifically, the idea of capturing history as it’s created by the people experiencing it.

11/4/08 is comprised of footage filmed across the world by 19 different contributing filmmakers, in 14 different cities, on the day of the US election that saw Barack Obama become President.

I am going to try and keep this review to an assessment of the film itself, but it is important to mention the fact that the film is the catalyst for a bigger ongoing project. What makes this even more significant is that the context of the film will change over time in the way that the project will.

The structure of 11/4/08 is chronological and the simplicity of sticking to the structure of the day itself heightens the feeling of shared experience, which is the essence of the film. You share how people felt across all 14 cities as the news and time unfold.

That the footage is user-generated as opposed to entirely professionally filmed creates a greater feeling of intimacy and immediacy, and though some footage was shot by professional filmmakers, it is hard to distinguish – which is no insult to those filmmakers, it simply fits into the pace, uncertainty and excitement of the day.

Having created a callout to people he knew, and then to the public for footage, Jeff Deutchman has curated an eclectic range of viewpoints and people shown on camera. Those I particularly enjoyed include a filmed phone with the audio description of the filmmaker’s extremely excited Mother after meeting Bill Clinton in the line for Starbucks, to an ex-convict who couldn’t vote but was watching the results come in despite feeling sceptical that the result would affect him either way.

The film takes us inside local campaign headquarters, election parties, street celebrations and offices as people discuss, debate, vote and celebrate. Our generation will always remember this election as being an important moment in history regardless of which side you voted for or whether it was an election in which you could even vote. There was a greater feeling that you couldn’t avoid, even if you didn’t have an interest in politics: that something had changed, no matter what the outcome.

Many historic moments occur behind closed doors, in the confines of government rooms, through news coverage by a select few that were there, or are only realised as historic long after the moment. Documentary filmmakers retrospectively collate these moments and show us, through archive and testimony, events and context of how and why these moments mattered. 11/4/08 shows the moment exactly as it happened and from a lesser seen viewpoint of the normal people participating in an event that we uniquely knew at the time would be historic. The accumulative viewpoint is without context, comment or bias and so is simply the feelings shared by millions of people during that day.

By creating a film in this way it does capture history but not in the way we’re used to, with the before and the after. What makes this particularly interesting is that, over time, the film will become something else; as the results of the elections and the resulting presidency change, so will the viewer’s experience of the film. Watching it again now, in the run up to the mid-term elections, it is a reminder of the hope people felt and whether you feel that hope was justified. In 10 or 20 years watching the film will become a completely different experience when taken in the context of whatever happens politically by that point. Beyond that, and devoid of even considering the political aspect, it is a film documenting collective experience – when millions of people cared about the same thing enough to vote, whatever their political views or what the election meant at that point in time – long after it’s still fresh in our memories. I can imagine this’ll be a film shown in classrooms in years to come.

The 11/4/08 website aims to go beyond the story told in the film and there is an open call for any additional footage captured on that day. It aims to continue in the same vein as the film, as an ever-expanding record of the experience of that day and an evolving document of history.

On October 20th 11/4/08 will screen simultaneously in cities across the U.S., which means that, collectively, the country can watch together a film about a collective experience. Clever, huh? Following the screening Jeff will be doing a Q&A from Philadelphia that will be streamed into every cinema showing the film and the audience will be able to tweet questions and, together, participate in a live discussion about the film. I highly recommend checking the film out, especially at one of these unique theatrical experiences.

From October 22nd the film will also be available via iTunes, Amazon, Sony Playstation and CinemaNow. More information is at the film’s website here and the trailer is below. We are also delighted to have Jeff joining us for the next Documentary Blog podcast, so please also check that out.