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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

LAFF 2009 Review: Convention

Documentary filmmaker AJ Schnack leads a team of filmmakers behind the scenes of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in his new film Convention. Although the convention was itself an historic occasion, ending with the first nomination of an African-American for the presidency of the United States by a major political party, this isn’t a documentary following Obama’s road to the White House, or even his road to the convention; rather, it’s a behind-the-scenes documentation of the vast amount of work and coordination it took the city of Denver to host this convention while assuring the safety and comfort of delegates, nominees and Denver residents.
With remarkable access behind-the-scenes (particularly given the security concerns), Schack and his team capture the human moments behind the convention machine: the young reporter assigned for her first-ever political beat to cover the convention; the editorial and writing staff of the Denver Post, working their asses off to capture this historic occasion happening in their own backyard while struggling to keep up with and compete against all the journalists from out-of-state; the city officials charged with organizing things at their end while coordinating with the team responsible for the convention itself, and a merry band of protesters there to remind those watching that the first step toward losing your freedoms is failing to use them.

The protesters are led by Barbara and Mark Cohen, co-founders of Recreate 68, an activist group formed to act as a clearinghouse of sorts for the various protests planned around the DNC. The Cohens don’t seem to particularly care much what political causes they’re supporting, so long as the right of the people to protest at the convention is upheld. In one rather amusing scene, though, the Cohen’s outdoor meeting with a group of activists is repeatedly interrupted by an anarchist/performance artist with a bullhorn; Mark Cohen confronts the fellow, asking him to stop interrupting their meeting, eventually getting fed up and telling the guy he’s rude for interfering with the group’s meeting. He doesn’t really seem to see the irony that he himself is in the middle of a meeting about protesting at a huge convention being held by other people who might themselves find him rude for interrupting them with his own agenda. But does activism ever truly see any view other than its own?
There’s also little irony around the contrast between Denver mayor John Hickenlooper’s stated commitment to the free speech rights of protesters and the Big-Brother-like way in which the protests and crowds are managed through headquarters; some protester types who take themselves very seriously might take offense at the way in which the police and government officials talk about them sarcastically (“I just love anarchists,” one says. “Snazzy dressers.”) Of course, those who might be inclined to not see the humor in that probably don’t talk about the Man in any kinder terms. And so it goes.
It’s quite fascinating to watch the machinations of this convergence of press, politics and protests all brought together as parts of the same big story, and all the bits and pieces are edited together such that there’s a narrative flow to the events that unfold. One audience member noted during the Q&A that the film seemed to him to lack any irony around the political process overall or President Obama’s adherence to his own campaign promises, but that’s not really what Convention is about; it’s simply about how all these players involved in pulling off this historic DNC in the Mile High City worked together to do so, and the convention itself, and particularly the nomination and acceptance of Obama, are almost the sideline to the story Schack’s looking to tell.
In that respect, Convention works well as a peek behind the scenes out how something as big as the DNC comes together, showing all the aspects you don’t necessarily think about as you’re watching speeches and flag-waving on your television, or listening to the person who might be your country’s next president make an historic speech accepting the nomination of his party.

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~ László Krasznahorkai

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One of the great movies. Charles Bronson, great, Charles Bronson. Great movies. Today you can’t make that movie because it’s not politically correct, right? It’s not politically correct. But could you imagine with Trump? Somebody says, oh, all these big monsters aren’t around he’s easy pickings and then shoot.”
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