NYFF51: How Democracy Works Now

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In 2001, the filmmaking team of Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson—fresh from touring the country with Well-Founded Fear, their 2000 documentary about political asylum and the INS—decided for their next project to focus on immigration reform. “We jumped in,” they later wrote, “not really so much to follow the immigration story, but more the drama of a social movement as it meshed/aligned with a large political wave.” In the summer of 2001, reform seemed inevitable in Washington, which was the logical place to begin. And then 9/11 happened, and everything changed. The filmmakers contemplated the possibility of abandoning their weeks-old project, and then decided to press on: they were already in it for the long haul. Over the next decade, they insinuated their way into the offices of congressmen and senators on all sides of the political spectrum, gained unprecedented access to hearings and bill-mark-ups and back room machinations, fanned out across the country to film the organizers and activists working at the grass-roots level in battleground states like Arizona. They saw the dream of a comprehensive bill die and then come back to life; they followed their protagonists, from Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum to conservative political operative David Kensinger, from the tireless immigration reform advocate Alfredo Gutierrez to the equally tireless Cecilia Muñoz (then an immigration advocate, now working in the Obama administration), as they gathered energies, mobilized, suffered crushing defeats and started all over again; and they saw Senator Ted Kennedy fight his last great political battle. And they filmed it all.

One film quickly turned into a series of 12, nine of which have been completed and one of which is nearing completion. Some of their material has been seen in various stages (as assemblies or works in progress) and some in finished form, but the films have never been shown altogether. Taken as a whole, these quietly authoritative and masterfully constructed films—each one compelling on its own, many of them down-to-the-wire political thrillers—form one epic story of our political process during a time of monumental change. They tell the story of how our democracy works, right now.

And by they way—Michael and Shari are still filming…

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