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To Mark Their Territories, Pols Piss on Democracy

Gerrymandering (2010)

Gary Griffin/2010 Tribeca Film Festival

The world of politics has always consisted of shady backroom schemes and secretive deals behind closed doors. But the process of legislators redrawing district lines to guarantee their future in office, also called "gerrymandering," is one of the more public and generally accepted political machinations. It also might be one of the most insidious, according to "Gerrymandering" — a new documentary by Jeff Reichert — which argues that the American redistricting process represents a profound impediment to genuine democracy and voter empowerment.

Despite gerrymandering being an open secret, most citizens are unaware of the effect it has on their voting choices or lack thereof. Perhaps in an attempt to excite an apathetic viewer, as well as to educate, the beginning of the film is cluttered with graphics, fast-paced editing and twangy music that accompanies most scenes and interviews. The frenetic pace slows down as the film progresses, though, and a narrative thread takes hold: Kathay Feng's push for Proposition 11, a California ballot initiative that will put a nonpartisan citizen committee in charge of redistricting. From here, Mr. Reichert deftly weaves in stories and interviews, exploring the injustice of gerrymandering, a system which often results in oddly shaped districts which divide along lines of race, class, partisanship or virtually anything that will help an incumbent stay in office. The film is not without humor, as it recognizes the absurdity of the more extreme remapping, while still focusing on the pain suffered by communities whose voices get lost in the shuffle.

"Gerrymandering" does not attempt to be overly artful. It is issue-driven and not shy about its agenda, as the end credits implore the viewer to help end gerrymandering and work together to achieve real democracy. But despite a jittery introduction, the film ultimately succeeds in communicating the importance of the issue. The topic is compelling, the evidence overwhelming, and just as any good documentary, the passion on the part of the filmmakers is tangible throughout.


Opens on Oct. 15 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Jeff Reichert; director of photography, Gary Griffin; edited by Sam Pollard; music by David Wingo; produced by Mr. Reichert, Dan O’Meara and Chris Romano; released by Green Film Company. Running time: 1 hour 21 minutes. This film is not rated.


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