By Zach Roberts
I'm going to start this with a sales pitch: you need to buy this film. No, really. Not because Greg Palast receives second billing but because you must see this film. American Blackout is the kind of documentary that only comes along every few years. It's the sort of film that changes things - changes how you think. If there was any justice in this world this film would receive the same buzz and box office that anything that Michael Moore releases gets. Greg Palast told me the film "blew him away" - this from a man who is almost always underwhelmed by documentaries, especially ones about his field of expertise.
When delving into the voter issue, the media distracts you with all the things it loves to talk about. But you need to forget the hanging chads and forget the malfunctioning machines. They're just a sideshow to the real story. The real story is a lot less sexy, dealing with road blocks, purged voters, 'misplaced' voting machines, uncounted ballots and long lines. This is the Civil Rights Movement all over again but this time there are no great monsters like Bull Connor. The lynchings today are electronic and political... and the freedom riders nowhere to be found.
American Blackout, directed by Guerrilla News Network's Ian Inaba uses a stunning mix of never before seen archive and firsthand interviews. Inaba knows how to make otherwise dull C-Span clips look like something completely new and interesting. He does this by split-screen and zooming so you know who you're supposed to be looking at - Katherine Harris, Jeb Bush, ChoicePoint representatives. You see them lying to a Civil Rights panel, you see them sweat when questioned by Congresswoman McKinney. All I can say is that I am stunned that I've never seen this technique used before - it keeps you interested, on your toes and wanting for more. Yes, you will be wanting to see more of this documentary, these 90 minutes fly past quickly. So do take notes - there will be a test afterwards - the 2006 election.
Among the great footage in this documentary is a pan shot of lines of people waiting to vote - I saw this once before, when I was 13 and apartheid came to an end. South Africa held its first free election and Black voters could be seen in lines that went on for miles. But this is America, we are not a developing democracy and should long have emerged from the dark ages of electoral segregation.
The story of Cynthia McKinney that sews the running thread through the film, is uglier than even I knew. Many only familiar with the Congresswoman's press coverage will be aghast at just how distorted a picture the media has fed us.
It literally defies belief.
Here we see her cross-examining Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with such surgical precision and grasp of her brief that Rumsfeld is left stammering and ashen-faced. It makes us wonder what kind of country we might have right now if more had put this administration under such factual scrutiny. American Blackout lays out exactly why she has been so relentlessly hounded. Every one of her speeches brings to mind the hoarse pleas of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a force to be reckoned with. (In the DVD extras you can watch "Capitol Policeman Speaks Out" and see why she "lost it" back in March 2006.)
Inaba's film is intense yet easy to grasp for even the most non-political among us.
And for those who can't sit in one place for too long, the DVD comes with a shortened version which still gets the point across in under 20 minutes.
Since I started with a sales pitch it only seems right to end with one: Remember when in the days after 9/11 our president told us to go out and shop? Do the patriotic thing and buy this DVD. In fact I would buy several: you are going to want to pass this one around your friends and chances are you're not going to get it back.
Buy it directly at the American Blackout website. We get nothing from these sales except the knowledge that we are supporting one kick-ass filmmaker with a gotta-see-it call to arms against the racial poisoning of our democracy.
Or donate a tax-deductible $50 or more to our educational foundation and Palast will send you a signed copy of American Blackout. All proceeds support the investigative work of the Palast team.
"A muckraking indictment" (LA TIMES) and "engrossing, fast-paced, stylish... a powerful examination of voting rights in America." (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER)
Leni von Eckardt contributed to this article.