The 21st Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina runs from Thursday, April 5 through Sunday, April 8. The festival presents more than 60 documentaries, many of which have screened at prestigious film festivals such as Sundance and DOCNYC as well as simultaneously occurring at DOC10 in Chicago.
One film finding a home at Full Frame is Capturing the Flag, a timely tale of the 2016 presidential election. The film captures more than a flag, it captures your attention and opens your eyes as the film uncovers the manipulative behavior resulting in voter suppression. As voter rights aids visit the most likely polling stations to commit such violations in an attempt to help citizens fulfill their democratic rights, we see first-hand how this impacted our last election.
Filmmaker and director Anne de Mare, a New York City native, brings to light this true story. Her background is in theater, specifically as a director and playwright, but her love of documentary films gives her, as she recently stated in an interview with me, “...the most direct and compelling way to explore what it’s like to be a person in the world right now.” She continued to share her thoughts about the making of this particular film.
Pamela Powell (PP): What compelled you to tell this particular story?
Anne de Mare (AdM): Like a lot of people, I was so disheartened during the lead-up to the last Presidential election; the negativity of the campaigns and all the media around them felt so overwhelming. When Elizabeth Hemmerdinger first approached me about following Laverne Berry’s voter protection work, it felt like a way to highlight the story of somebody who was trying to make things better. I had known Laverne professionally for a number of years, but didn’t know much about her personally, and as I got to know more about her (and Steve and Claire and eventually Trista), here were these everyday citizens who were taking it upon themselves to help the nuts-and-bolts processes of how how our country works keep working. One voter at a time. I still find that really inspiring. And what was happening on the ground in North Carolina with their last-minute shifting of voting laws was such a powerful and important story for the whole country.
PP: I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I had no idea how voter suppression actually occurred.
AdM: I don’t think that most Americans understand that we still have very real voter suppression in this country. Part of that is because voter suppression looks very different than it did during the Civil Rights Movement. It isn’t out in the open, it’s far more insidious, more systemic, harder to put your finger on. It’s a series of accumulated barriers - logistic and administrative and legislative - that add up to making it more and more difficult for certain populations to vote.
PP: How did you become connected with Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, the “brainchild” of this production?
AdM: Elizabeth and I met over 30 years ago; we were both working in theater at the time and I directed a reading of a play she had written about Charles Dickens’ wife called The National Treasure. We became great friends during that process, and many years later, through very different paths, we both became involved in documentary film. She approached me with her idea about Capturing The Flag in the summer of 2016 when she learned about Laverne's voter protection work, and I was really drawn to the idea.
PP: When did you decide to delve into this issue?
AdM: I think it was a real reaction to the fact that all of the media noise around the election was focused top-down -- I wanted to make a film that explored what it's like to be a citizen, and what our democracy looks like on the granular level at the polls. As we started filming, I started realizing more and more how important a role regular citizens have in the functions of our republic and how this is often not considered “sexy-enough” for the media to cover...I wanted to tell a different kind of story at that moment, in large part because I wanted to find a way to have hope for our democracy again.
PP: In telling this story, what was one of the most challenging scenes to shoot?
AdM: I think the biggest challenge with this film was how difficult it was to find a way to tell this story in a way that consciously fought against the sensationalism of a lot of the media coverage, but was still compelling to audiences. We’ve come to describe it as a slow burn of a film on a hot button topic, but finding that balance took a really long time.
PP: What are your hopes for this film as far as making changes in our system?
I want audiences to be inspired to take better care of our democratic process, to think about their own role as citizens and about how they can participate more — not just by voting, but by working inside their own communities on democracy issues, getting involved with local boards of election, and by supporting grassroots organizations that put pressure on legislatures to make sure everyone has the ability to vote.
I do see positives coming out of the 2016 election - there are growing movements of citizens speaking up about all kinds of issues, and voting rights and gerrymandering are right in the center of all that activity. I’m personally really excited about Rev. Dr. William Barber’s revival of the Poor People’s Campaign and the work they are planning for this spring.
Capturing the Flag will have its world premiere on Sunday, April 8 at 2 p.m. with a moderated conversation following the screening. For ticket information go to https://www.fullframefest.org/film/capturing-the-flag/
© Pamela Powell (4/6/18) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Filmmaker and director Anne de Mare
Middle Photo: Volunteer voter protection worker, Brooklyn based entertainment lawyer, and producer of CAPTURING THE FLAG Laverne Berry. (Nelson Walker III)
Photo credits: Capturing the Flag