The 2002 documentary "Recount Democracy" does its best to recap all the key issues regarding the election debacle, plus make a case for the election's larger role in Florida's civil rights history. But it tries to do so in a quick 55 minutes (the last 15 of the 70 minute running time are devoted instead to an update on the 2004 election), so instead of an in depth study, all we get are the Cliff's Notes. Anyone with even the slimmest interest in politics will find little new here.
Political filmmaker Danny Schechter ("Weapons of Mass Deception," "In Debt We Trust") focuses most of his attention on the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida. Through narrators Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Schechter argues that many of the state's voting troubles may have partly been retaliation for protests made earlier in 2000, including a sit-in at Governor Jeb Bush's office and a march on Tallahassee, both in response to Bush's stance on Affirmative Action. 2000 also saw a major step forward in voter drives, including an "Arrive with Five" program meant to increase black voter turnout (the slogan reminds you to bring five voters with you when you vote, to increase numbers); the voter registry scandals that later followed were more than mere treachery, Schechter claims, but a direct response to counteract the increase in black voters.
Interviewees add that these sort of disenfranchisement maneuvers worked so well because the left dropped the ball on voter education. Schechter blames most of this on the state itself, which spends five times more to educate residents about the lottery than about voting, but the film does allow one left-leaning activist to admit the fault is mostly their own.
This pattern repeats throughout the movie. Schechter pays mere lip service to notions that the Gore-Lieberman camp may have slipped up here or there, then quickly rushes forward, placing the real blame on any number of Republican interferers. But it's not just a matter of leveling out the blame - it's just sloppy reporting. The film fails to fully inform us why Gore's mistakes (mainly: his decision to ask for a recall in four counties, but not the entire state) were mistakes, or why Bush's tactics were dubious. Schechter merely states that they were, and we should accept it.
When discussion turns to the infamous butterfly ballot, the film spends plenty of time interviewing senior citizens (and even some younger folks) who were baffled by the design, but skims past a chance to interview the actual designer of the ballot. In fact, the filmmaker spends an unnecessarily lengthy amount of time discussing the countless ways people can screw up a ballot, and in doing so accidentally paints a picture of Gore supporters as being clueless dolts who can't understand how to fill out a form. One interviewee berates the system for not taking the time to investigate every questionable ballot, yet the film declines the opportunity to suggest how to fix that system.
And on it goes. When the topic moves on to the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in favor of ceasing the recount, the movie fails to fully explain why the court cited the Fourteenth Amendment in its decision, or even why it was a bad ruling. Schechter is satisfied to say simply that it was a bad ballot, a bad ruling, and these Republicans were bullies, and hey, just take our word for it.
Curiously, the film repeatedly berates the media for sloppy coverage built more along bite-sized storylines than actual reporting, yet that's about what we get here, too. Schechter attempts to brew up some outrage by reminding us that the election outcome isn't old news, that it still matters. But if you're going to do that, you need to provide a closer look at the facts, and paint a larger picture. This film does neither.
Was "Recount Democracy" released on DVD before? The film includes a 2004 update, which only makes sense if the film landed in video stores in 2004. As it is, it's showing up four years too late.
Video & Audio
"Recount Democracy" uses a variety of video sources to tell its tale, with results ranging from passable to pretty bad. All of the complaints (among them: ugly pixilated blocking in one digital video shot) stem from the source material itself, and in a low budget documentary like this, such flaws are forgivable.
The stereo soundtrack does fine in keeping the chatter clear, with music never getting in the way. (Schechter's decision to tinker with source audio, adding "moody" reverb to the end of a few of President Bush's sound bites, is a terrible choice, but at least it's mixed decently.) No subtitles are provided.
The "2004 Update" (15:15) is nothing more than a couple bonus scenes, one set at the 2004 Republican National Convention, and one set at a Florida rally/conference where Michael Moore showed up to offer support for the Democratic cause. I'm not sure why this is included as a bonus, considering this same segment has also been edited into the film itself.
The "preview/teaser" (21:46) is actually a very lengthy advance preview of "a film in progress," quite likely a sales pitch produced to attract potential investors, using the working title "Counting on Democracy." It's sort of a pre-rough cut, revealing raw footage that would later get polished for the final film; several shots not used in the final edit are also included here.
Previews for other Pathfinder documentaries round out the set.
Anyone hoping to gain a greater understanding of the 2000 election should look elsewhere. "Recount Democracy" is too slight in its reporting to change any minds and too shoddy in its presentation to entertain those who already agree with its message. Skip It.