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November 16, 2009

SDFF 2009 - Convention

convention 1.jpg

A.J. Schnack - 2009
Bonfire Films of America

At the time of the Democratic Convention last year, I lived about a mile from the Pepsi Center where most of the activity took place. The convention did not affect my life too much as my job was south of Denver. There was one night when I saw Santa Fe Drive, a main thoroughfare two blocks from my then current home, closed off. Also, someone decided that, in an area with virtually no mail boxes, to remove the mail boxes in front of the grocery store were I shopped, across the street from where downtown Denver begins. Also, more police seemed to be stationed at that grocery store. In short, there seemed to be enough people with memories of Chicago in 1968 that I can personally attest to a certain amount of caution.

A.J. Schnack allowed for several videographers to follow several people involved with the convention. The main rule was that these would have to be Denver based people. Among the "stars" were from Denver Mayor Hickenlooper's office, Chantal Unfug (seen above) and Bill Vidal, and novice political writer from the Denver Post, Allison Sherry (seen below). Also appearing are Mark and Barbara Cohen from "Recreate 68", one of the protest groups that appeared during the course of the convention. The several stories are edited to create a picture of what was happening before and during the convention, sometimes at the same time. It's a documentary that often plays like a narrative film, that at certain moments recalls the work of Robert Altman, if not the cinema verite approach of D.A. Pennebaker.

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Even though the title is Convention, what Schnack and his team have documented is outside of the Pepsi Center. What is eye opening is to learn about some of the logistics involved in planning for street security, and the coordination of different groups with their particular needs and agendas. As previously stated, the memory of the Chicago convention of 1968 haunted everyone who had watched the protesters and the police on television. Among the moments in this film to remember: Chantal Unfug learning to ride the Mayor's motorbike, and a scene where she is traveling around the inaccessible Pepsi Center in attempt to secure some needed credentials for the convention. Also, Allison Sherry's temporary meltdown after several failed attempts to connect online with the Denver Post from the convention center, and make her story deadline. Most moving may be when a group of uniformed soldiers, veterans who have been to Iraq, march to the Pepsi Center, with a confrontation of mutual respect with the police ending with one of the veterans meeting with former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, enabling the veterans to convey their reasons for protest to the Democratic Party.

At this point, Convention is seen on the festival circuit. Hopefully the film will be more widely available. As for the actual convention that was happening inside the Pepsi Center, more reading this already know what happened. Convention is another example of the documentary that proves more entertaining and surprising than what comes out of Hollywood.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 16, 2009 07:58 AM