Video: Party-Crashing Politics
Two documentaries from political seasons past forgo cynicism and speak to the present electoral moment.
This article originally ran in 2012, two years before Philip Seymour Hoffman died.
Before he was The Master, before he was an Oscar winner, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had one of his more challenging roles during the 2000 presidential election. In the documentary The Party’s Over, we see one of the defining actors of our generation back when he could walk on the street unnoticed. Here he’s just an average American trying to make sense of the modern political system.
And he covers a lot of ground, traveling from the Republican National convention in Philadelphia to the Democratic convention in Los Angeles. It’s a whirlwind tour of the pre-9/11 political climate, covering a host of issues that still occupy us today: gun control, poverty, unemployment, religious freedom, food safety, drug reform, education, social security.
He talks with a range of celebrity opinionators and politicians: Bill Maher, Susan Sarandon, Jesse Jackson, Newt Gingrich. But it’s his encounters with people at the grassroots level that seems to ignite Hoffman’s political conscience. As he meets people who hunger for change in their country, he develops a personal stake in the democratic process, even while pointing out its major flaw—the power of corporate profiteers over the system.
Party Crashing Politics with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Schiller and Andre 3000
You see this play out at the conventions, where you really see the contrast of what goes on inside and outside. While the parties conduct their business, demonstrators literally rage against the machine of big money politics. But their voices are swept away by police, calling into question how much people’s first amendment freedoms are being attacked.
But that’s nothing compared to what happens in The After Party, filmed during the 2004 election season. At the Republican convention in New York City, filmmaker Michael Schiller was caught up in a mass arrest of demonstrators even though, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, he was simply filming the proceedings.
Schiller was part of a documentary project similar to Hoffman’s, starring rapper Andre 3000 of Outkast trying to get out the vote. [See interview with Michael Schiller in Keyframe.] At that time Andre 3000 was more famous than Barack Obama—we even see them talking at the 2004 Democratic Convention, just moments before Obama gave the speech that put him on the map. At the Republican Convention, while Andre 3000 was engaged in deep conversation with George Bush daughters, Schiller was filming the demonstrations outside, where he was arrested. His experience opens his eyes to the expansive government surveillance networks after 9/11 and their impact on the civil rights of ordinary Americans.
Through these films we see two filmmakers transformed into conscientious citizens. We also see a host of problems that plague America’s democratic process. But instead of sinking into cynicism, these films urge us to find ways to fix the system.
Kevin B. Lee is Chief Video Essayist at Fandor. He has made over 250 video essays exploring film and media. Follow him on Twitter at @alsolikelife.