Gerrymandering -- Film Review



Watching "Gerrymandering" is like taking a course on a subject you keenly want to learn about only to discover the lecturer is a boring, old windbag.

The subject of political redistricting is an urgent one for American democracy, given the amount of confusion over the issue on those occasions -- like Proposition 11 on California's 2008 ballot -- when citizens actually can vote on the question. But all this film's writer, director and co-producer, Jeff Reichert, can offer essentially is a 77-minute expansion on a political TV spot.

You might be able to shrug off the film's tone of advocacy because most viewers probably will agree on the need for reform. What grates, though, is the hectoring tone, annoying graphics, irritating drum score, the poor quality of the film clips and many digressions into marginal material.

When it opens Oct. 15, "Gerrymandering," produced and distributed by Green Film Co., will mostly preach to the choir, some of whose members might wish to slip out the back door. The film should do better in ancillary markets.

The term "gerrymander" refers to process of deliberate drawing of an electoral district or constituency boundary in such as manner that will control the outcome of an election. Invariably, gerrymandering assures the triumph of an incumbent or a particular political party in control.

The term dates back to a redrawing of Massachusetts' state Senate election districts in 1812 under Gov. Elbridge Gerry. A newspaper dubbed one oddly shaped district, which resembled a salamander, a Gerry-mander. You do learn here that everyone mispronounces the word because the governor's last name was pronounced "Gary," not "Jerry" as one usually does today.

The film hops all over the U.S. map to cite outrageous examples of this process including a political challenger in New York who found his house suddenly just outside the district he hoped to represent. One fascinating tidbit suggests that President Obama might not sit in the White House today had he not been able to redraw his Illinois district earlier in his political career.

The film tries to follow the successful battle for Proposition 11 in California two years ago but keeps getting sidetracked into stories and issues tangential at best. Poor-quality news clips are mixed with far too many talking heads, though Reichert does line up impressive names including such California governors as Gray Davis, Pete Wilson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and (in an old clip) Ronald Reagan.

Because everyone interviewed is on the same side of the debate, you do not hear how politicians might defend the process of keeping redistricting behind closed doors and out of the hands of carefully screened citizens. Probing the methods and motives of opponents undoubtedly would have shed much greater light on the issue. But the filmmakers, some of whom head committees pushing for reform, apparently decided to go for their own cinematic gerrymandering by excluding any naysayers.

Opens: Friday, Oct. 15 (Green Film Co.)
Production: Green Film Co.
Director-screenwriter: Jeff Reichert
Producers: Jeff Reichert, Dan O'Meara, Chris Romano
Executive producers: Bill Mundell, Lawrence Abramson, DJ Martin
Director of photography: Gary Griffin
Music: David Wingo
Editor: Sam Pollard
No rating, 77 minutes