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A Chat with Filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman on the eve of the release of "STEALING AMERICA: Vote by Vote"

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A Chat with Filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman
OpEdNews Exclusive, on the eve of the release of STEALING AMERICA: Vote by Vote, Quad Cinema, New York City

I first met Dorothy in 2006 at the WeCount election integrity conference in Cleveland. I was moved to write a glowing review after seeing STEALING AMERICA, a work-in-progress, which had come out that year.

When I heard that she had added new material, I was curious and eager to see it. I've now taken a sneak peek at the new version, and it surpasses the first. The additions take a documentary that was really quite good and elevate it to a higher plane. The longer, theatrical version has gained both breadth and depth.

STEALING AMERICA is kicking off a 13-city tour with its debut on August 1 (through August 7) at the Quad Cinema in the Village. Fadiman, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, has traditionally chosen a more grassroots, approach to her movie distribution – scheduling multiple, informal screenings and selling as many as 500 DVDs at a single showing. More than 70,000 copies of Motherhood by Choice, one of her earlier films, were sold in this way. STEALING AMERICA is her first foray into the commercial theatre circuit, and it’s both exhilarating and a little scary.

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Dorothy and I spent several hours on a Sunday morning recently chatting about STEALING AMERICA, as she treated me to a tantalizing glimpse of the creative process.

JB: I understand that you have regular feedback sessions as a film takes shape. Tell me more about how you use this input to shape your films.

DB: I have completed 20 films over the last 30 years. These projects take as long as they take – usually, at least a year. STEALING AMERICA took almost four years to produce. The process of making a documentary film is laborious and intensive.

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I start with a vision. I have an intuitive sense of what needs to be said and how to say it. My editing team and I put together an initial version of the film; then, we begin to have small screenings of maybe six or eight people to ask for opinions. Sometimes, when a film is almost done, it might be 100 people. We continue to edit, add, subtract, and develop until the feedback gives us the sense that the film is working well enough to be ready for a wider spectrum of people [different ages, socio-economic groups, and professions]. We never run out of people – friends, friends of friends – gathering viewers to critique the film works in concentric circles.

In the course of making this film, we held about 20 feedback sessions – in churches, schools, and a theatre – with audiences ranging in size from 4 to 325. My goal is not to be praised for the work in progress; my goal is to make the film work.

Dorothy explained how STEALING AMERICA morphed as a result of the feedback she received. Here’s one example: Some viewers felt that a disproportionate number of interviewees, on the whole, dressed casually and spoke in a way that represented a clearly liberal perspective. Fadiman brought greater balance to the film by adding Paul Craig Roberts. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan and a former associate editor at the Wall Street Journal. His formal suit and tie, as well as his conservative credentials, added to the gravitas of the film. Fadiman also gave important screen time to Chuck Herrin, a life-long Republican and highly regarded IT security consultant. These two men add a more balanced feel to the story and it was input from feedback sessions that led to their inclusion.

JB: What did you gain by revisiting the subject of election integrity since 2004?

DF: This new version is longer [90 minutes], giving more opportunity to develop topics in greater depth. The theatrical version covers significant stories in elections spanning a decade – 1996 through 2006. By stepping back and taking a long-range view, it is possible to see trends such as the parallels in the discrepancies between exit poll results and final vote counts. The film traces the fact that the more electronic voting machines in use in polling places, the greater the discrepancy between exit polls and final tallies.

In addition to a traditional film site, we are developing an action website. Both the film and action sites can be found at www.stealingamericathemovie.org [which will be operational on August 1] with a full range of suggestions about what you can do, as well as detailed steps to follow.

JB: Why did you choose the commercial theatre route this time?

DF: Originally, my intention was to produce and send out thousands of DVDs. The cost for these would be minimal, the goal would be simply to cover expenses and have them widely distributed and used. My Executive Producer, Mitchell Block, felt we should wait on DVD distribution and first reach those the DVDs may never reach – mainstream people who are not activists – who hear that this provocative film is playing at their local theatre. Mitchell underscored that if the DVD is out, people will be far less likely to come to theatres. And so, I decided to support his vision. On August 1, we will be launching a theatrical release first, followed by a DVD release in the fall. We are eager to see how well this way of showcasing the film works.

JB: Is the atmosphere in 2008 more conducive to your message?

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DF: Yes. Many people are better informed and are more ready to hear about what went wrong in 2000 and 2004. And, they want to be able to communicate with other people about why they are concerned. However, it is a challenge to explain this complex situation about why our elections are so vulnerable to others. Suggesting that someone go see a film is one way to share what you sense or even know, without needing to have all the details and facts at your fingertips.

Until recently, we were a nation uninformed – virtually no mainstream media coverage of the "irregularities," the "anomalies," the suspicious tallies, and little awareness of machine "glitches" such as vote switching. Some people simply have no information. Others are in denial; they have the information, but have put it in the back of their minds. Some are aware, but feel helpless. Others are ready to act, but need more resources. STEALING AMERICA, as well as various other recent books and film projects, have carefully thought-out suggestions for action posted on their websites so that, when people are ready to act, there is a base of support, actions, hotlinks, articles, and much more.

While mainstream media had not been reporting on the subject, that is changing. I've had interest in this film from CNN, USA Today, Time and others. The spectrum of films and books and articles and blogs has had a cumulative effect. People want to know more and STEALING AMERICA is one of the resources that shows some of the most egregious situations and begins to break down the mystique about how vulnerable our elections are and what we can do.

JB: What is the take-away from STEALING AMERICA?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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