Friday, November 9, 2018

DOC NYC Spotlight: The Candidates

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eighth year in New York City from November 8th-15th.

The Candidates
Directed by Alexandra Stergiou and Lexi Henigman
Festival Screenings

The 2016 presidential election is going to be remembered by everyone in America and so many worldwide for being such an incredible rollercoaster with multiple shocking moments that culminated in the surprise election of Donald Trump in defiance of considerable data and polling suggesting that Hillary Clinton was sure to triumph. Even in just the past two years, it has influenced many films and television shows, and that trend is only going to continue in the wake of historic voter turnout for this past week’s midterm elections. Much of those projects are far from optimistic, and it’s refreshing to see one film that uses it as an entirely positive base.

At Townsend Harris High School in Queens, New York, the senior class is putting on a mock election to mirror the timing of the actual presidential election. Misbah, who is Muslim, is selected to play Hillary Clinton, and Daniel is chosen to be Donald Trump, despite arguments that the classmate chosen to play Pence looks a lot more like the real candidate. Other students are also portraying Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, paying close attention to what’s happening with the election so that they can show what democracy might look like by learning the candidates’ positions and then trying to win over the student population.

This simulation boasts extraordinarily productive educational components, particularly for those actively engaged in the experiment. Daniel notes towards the beginning of the film that he has taken on a more conservative outlook in his own life, and that he has an uphill battle to convince the mostly liberal students at his school that Trump is best for the country. He notes that it’s often more difficult to get his points across as Trump, but it does give him a louder soapbox on which to stand. Misbah laughs that she is now referred to in the hallways as Hillary and wonders whether the positions she has gotten to know so well do in fact represent her own beliefs, either in part or in full. Raya, cast as Stein, acknowledges that she isn’t given the same support from the administration as the top two candidates, mirroring the minimal role third-party candidates usually play in presidential elections.

Having teenagers get into an election more than most adult voters before they’re able to cast a ballot is a wondrous idea that most on any side of the aisle should support. There are moments of immaturity, of course, as can be expected from high schoolers, but mostly what’s portrayed is an impressive devotion to the project, and an immersion of interest from all at this school, or at the very least appropriately disengaged and apathetic as many Americans are. This film is fun and inspiring, and it’s truly a delight to see how these excited youth deal with real-world issues that those with much more life experience are hopeless to be able to explain.


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