(as in “no fee,” inter alia)
a feature documentary about Ohio 2004 and 2006 written by John Wellington Ennis
review by Marta Steele
I am a critic. It is my job to analyze and communicate my findings as clearly as possible. I have just watched the feature documentary Free for All, first accessible at www.freeforall.com on July 4 of this year. It is too long—on September 9 they will stream a shorter version. It preaches to the choir--no one but insiders will recognize the names and faces that stutter throughout the film at a dizzying pace. Few will even recognize Greg Palast, one of the leitmotifs who’s been at election protection since the 2000 horror and was the first to cry wolf, but not like the little boy—there really is a wolf.
Free for All tries not to preach to the choir by two- and three-word summaries of each defilement of Ohio 2004 and 2006, written onto Post-its and pinned onto the bulletin board in the bedroom of the thirty-something narrator and protagonist, who calls himself “just some dude”—a Candide, Simplicissimus, what have you.
What have we? A masterpiece.
The underlying question is not whodunit or even what we can do about it. The underlying question is, what is the truth? The dude, who doubles as the film’s creator, John Wellington Ennis, an accomplished filmmaker and Anyman Californian before he becomes Everyman, first hears about the 2004 debacle in the state that has determined the outcome of every Republican presidential victory in history, the Buckeye State (bug-eye?), Ohio—an uneasy mixture of rural and suburban Republicans and inner-city Democrats. Dude travels to Ohio to get to the bottom of it, to find that particular truth.
The plot centers around the activities of 2004’s answer to Katherine Harris in 2000—a combination of head of the Bush reelection campaign and secretary of state, hence head of elections, in Ohio (Harris, as we but not the majority of our compatriots know, played this role in Florida in 2000, handing over the election to the state’s governor’s brother, George W. Bush).
In the process of examining Blackwell’s myriad violations of human rights through the lens of our ultimate right, the vote, much becomes apparent that transcends this little man.
As mentioned above, the film attempts to simplify the condoned violations by means of two- and three-word summaries. We can’t find the truth, says the film—it’s an inaccessible platonic form—but we can strive toward it by assembling the closest thing we can reach, and that’s facts. What is a fact? Everything is recounted through points of view. But that’s the best we can do, so let’s do it.
Ohio 2004. The focus of the November election that will choose the president of the United States—how could we let Florida 2000 happen again? In Ohio we needed no Supreme Court, since Kerry conceded the next day, like Gore, only stuck to it (he even sent in a task force of attorneys thereafter, mainly in response to let-down constituents, but that’s another story. The attorneys found nothing amiss.)
The footage is amazing. The music right on—we need more music.
Quickly the paradox becomes apparent that while Ohio 2004 and Florida 2000 were allowed to happen here, the Bush administration roared when it happened in Ukraine, when exit polls contradicted tabulated results, and after huge street demonstrations for days, the Ukrainians got their man into office through a recount.
First we have to get mad, frightfully mad. Here’s how: Rumsfeld caught in his boldfaced lies, Bush making a joke out of the vain search for WMD in Iraq.
From RFK Jr.’s entry into our fray late in the battle till we get to his source, the world’s finest investigative reporter (only one?), Greg Palast, first shot riding in a cab with the dude. It’s like football, he explains. People cheat if they can get away with it.
The lead-in is overlong, a skillful combination of animation and straight action.