A stunning documentary reveals how the 2000 American presidential election was stolen.
‘It can’t be true!’ was the incredulous reaction that stayed with me throughout ‘Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election’, a documentary from Richard Ray Pérez and Joan Sekler. First released in 2002, it is finally making its way over to Europe in DVD/video format. And it makes for some riveting, if not disturbing home viewing.
The documentary traces George W. Bush’s steps from the governor’s mansion in Texas to the Whitehouse in Washington, D.C.. The majority of the attention focuses on the surreal events surrounding the controversial vote recount in the state of Florida. It clearly portrays deliberate acts of lying and manipulation on the part of the Republican Party, and strategic errors in judgement by the Democratic Party, all wrapped in a mouth-dropping tangle of conflicting interest. ‘What happened was truly unbelievable,’ says Sekler in a telephone interview, ‘Everyone who watched the elections knew something was going on, but no one knew just how bad it really was.’
Were it not for their effectiveness, some aspects of the charade would be almost laughable. In one scene Governor Jeb (brother-of) Bush declares to a crowd of Republicans that he has promised his brother to deliver the state of Florida. A few scenes later we see him announcing to the cameras that he is ‘reclusing’[sic.] himself from the recount in order to preserve objectivity in the process.
Equally ridiculous is the scene showing a ‘mob’ of fresh-faced junior Republican legislative assistants flown in from Washington to pose as angry Florida voters.
Other scenes are frustratingly familiar. Footage of the Bush campaign’s legal representative, former Secretary of State James Baker, attempting to spin events and dive through legal loopholes is insulting to all that hold honesty in high regard. And the systematic and deliberate removal of blacks (potential Democrat voters) from electoral lists recalls painful images of segregated toilets and burning crosses.
The extent of the Republicans’ grasp on power, and the degree of corruption in America’s democratic institutions is powerfully brought home by revelations about the highly irregular and decidedly biased ruling of the Supreme Court, which effectively handed Bush the election. The court split along party lines, with the majority Republican judges carrying the day for their party while managing a truly remarkable feat of legal gymnastics, which would prevent their ruling from being used against them by the Democratic party in other electoral controversies.
At the heart of the documentary lies a terrible and shocking truth, plain for all those who wish to see: the 2000 presidential election was not won, but stolen by the Bush team.
The disturbing implicit message is that appallingly few American have seen or accepted this truth. Foreign critics have been harping on for years about the demise of the United States’ democratic institutions under the Bush administration. But the conservative (i.e. pro-Republican) media corporations that rule the airwaves have been very successful in marginalising internal voices of dissent. ‘It’s something straight out of a banana republic,’ says Sekler in a telephone interview. So, it is has been up to the independent media to rise to the defence of democracy, the holiest of American values. When Sekler and Pérez screened their work in Florida they filled theatres around the state. ‘People simply didn’t know what had happened,’ says Sekler.
As a follow up, the duo are preparing a mobile film festival, which will tour the country showing their own and other critical independent films in the run up to the 2004 election. The working title of the festival is “Bush: You’re Fired!’
Unprecedented will be showing at the 2004 edition of the Rotterdam Film Festival. For screening dates check www.filmfestivalrotterdam.com. For more Unprecedented information visit www.unprecedented.org.