In the fall of 2004, we started thinking about making a film on the upcoming 2004 election. We knew that there was ample coverage of the “horse race” of the campaigns, and that the close contest between “red” and “blue” states was at the forefront of everyone’s minds, so we looked to cover something different. We set out to depict portraits of real people who make our democracy work, whose actions are not the kind of thing that would make the evening news. The jumping-off place for Election Day was the 2000 election, which had brought the failures of our voting systems into sharp focus. We decided to look at how the shadow of that election would affect the attitudes and experiences of voters and poll-workers across the country in 2004.
Election Day is one of the few days in the United States on which so many Americans are collectively engaged in a common activity — more than 100 million of them across the country vote together on a single day. This short span of time — less than 24 hours — encompasses a mammoth operation through which the people choose the leader of the Free World. We decided on a “form-follows-function” approach to the film’s structure: what the United States populace does in one day, so would the film. We would shoot all the footage on November 2, 2004. There are many fiction films that use this one-day conceit, but constructing a documentary film on a national scale out of a single day’s footage was a fantastic challenge.
One of the governing principles of our edit process was that the film structure would loosely follow the chronology of the day, starting at 4:30 AM with Jim Fuchs in Chicago and ending after 1 AM in Quincy, Florida. As a sort of creative philosophy, we wanted to ensure that we left space in the film for minor details of character, of place and of time. This was partly because the footage demonstrates how aptly the phrase “the devil is in the details” sums up many of the major problems in the electoral process. Also, by preserving the visual and auditory nuances of various locations around the country, we hoped to make the film a specific portrait of the U.S. in 2004 as well as a commentary on the election process itself.
Our hope is that the effect of Election Day on the viewer is greater than the sum of its parts, showing a portrait of the U.S. election system that no one has seen before.
Katy Chevigny, Director
Katy Chevigny is a documentary filmmaker, entrepreneur, and nonprofit manager. Chevigny founded Arts Engine and its predecessor Big Mouth Productions. In 2000, Chevigny launched MediaRights.org, a “knowledge commons” for filmmakers, activists, educators, and the general public. The site was awarded the South by Southwest Interactive Media Festival’s Best Green/Nonprofit Business Website in 2005. As a film director, Chevigny recently directed the film Election Day (2007), which premiered at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in March 2007 and was broadcast on public television by P.O.V. on July 1, 2008. Chevigny also co-directed Deadline (2004), an Emmy-nominated documentary about the dramatic events that took place in Illinois in 2003 concerning capital punishment. The film aired on NBC in July 2004 and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, won a CINE Golden Eagle Grand Jury Award and the Thurgood Marshall Journalism Award. Chevigny has produced many award-winning documentaries at Arts Engine, including: Arctic Son, Journey to the West: Chinese Medicine Today, Nuyorican Dream, Innocent Until Proven Guilty and Outside Looking In: Transracial Adoption in America.
Dallas Brennan Rexer, Producer
Maggie Bowman, Producer