Offering a good deal more polish and reach than the average political doc of its type, Christopher Kay‘s Of By For combines intelligent man-on-the-street interviews with high-profile talking heads to look at some of the ills afflicting American democracy. The film’s diagnosis — money’s corrupting influence, the tendency of powerful people to entrench themselves — is hardly new, but it’s voiced here with enough smarts and conviction to earn respect from non-plutocrat viewers of all political stripes.
Kay and producer Chad Monnin began inauspiciously: Frustrated with the state of the nation under the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, they decided to assess their fellow citizens’ opinions in one of the most cliched ways available: traveling Route 66. Corny or not, the trip resulted in footage of mostly young people giving thoughtful reasons for their feelings of helplessness and ambivalence.
Both filmmakers have Republican backgrounds but spend lots of time talking to progressives at events like a Los Angeles May Day celebration. Their evenhandedness continues when speaking to professionals: Ralph Nader, Al Sharpton and Dan Rather all get generous screen time alongside Newt Gingrich (Monnin’s former boss) and, er, Jack Abramoff. Many will find it odd to hear the convicted felon offering his idealistic prescription for getting money out of politics, but no one can deny he knows whereof he speaks. Together, the interviews deepen the layman’s understanding of how campaign fundraising overshadows nearly all other concerns in Washington.
At the same time, we hear how those campaigns are kept largely free of input outside the ruling two parties. Of By For proves itself nonpartisan in its thorough upbraiding of this entrenched system, a notion of party politics we’re told the founding fathers would have abhorred.
The stylish film benefits from attractive photography (though Kay might have sat closer to the camera when doing interviews) and a hip selection of source music — songs Kay likes so much he occasionally lets them distract from the interviewees we’re trying to hear.
Production Company: Old Machine
Director: Christopher Kay
Screenwriters: Christopher Kay, Chad Monnin, Aaron Keith Harris, Andrew Malone
Producer: Chad Monnin
Directors of photography: Christopher Kay, Andrew Malone
No rating, 87 minutes