Gerrymandering Movie: A Review

If you post or lurk here, you must be the political junkiest of the junkiest. That’s why you’ve probably been looking forward to Gerrymandering, a documentary about redistricting directed by filmmaker Jeff Reichert.

I don’t pretend to be a movie aficionado. Not at all. Hopefully this review will be somewhat coherent 🙂

I’ve seen a lot of users here posting that they were looking forward to seeing the film. I, as an avid user of the time-draining DRA, couldn’t wait to see it. Fortunately, I got a chance to witness the film at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend. My thoughts about the documentary are below the jump.

I came into the movie with high expectations because I’ve done too much research on the issue of gerrymandering and redistricting over the past few months. I also was expecting many issues to be touched upon that one would expect, like partisan motivations for gerrymandering and the Voting Rights Act.

I discuss specifically the movie in the block quote, so please skip if you want to go into the movie without knowing anything about Reichert’s style.

At the beginning of his documentary, Reichert employed animation of lines carving up states while explaining the definition of gerrymandering succinctly, a definition that anyone could easily understand. I would be content if all people took away from this movie was the definition he gave–everyone should know what gerrymandering is!!

Obviously, he went beyond it. The movie contained many interviews from activists, lawmakers, and pundits that gave their own anecdote about the issue. Personally, I felt that one of the most effective parts was the (brief) interview he got with Fmr. Rep. Martin Frost; Frost detailed exactly how he was affected by the DeLaymander, and the graphics that showed it firsthand were extremely effective.

Reichert covered pretty much everything that is pertinent to the redistricting process today: partisan motivations; racial motivations and the VRA; independent commissions; prison counting; Texas’ mid-decade redistricting; incumbent homes, etc.

I feel that people who constantly review and create maps here at SSP and know a lot about the process will know almost all of the information provided in the film. However, I thought it was cool to see personal stories behind the data we analyze here. There was one story from a non-establishment Brooklyn Democrat who had his house removed from a district so that he couldn’t re-challenge an entrenched incumbent in the ensuing election. The lawmaker, who called the process “gangsta,” now is an assemblyman.

The documentary spent a lot of time with background from the campaign on Prop 11, which you may know as the thing that will create independent commissions to deal with California redistricting. I felt as though the film didn’t do enough to explain how that would affect the state, and I also felt that it was kind of boring at times to keep hearing about the campaign behind it. Not that this was that much of a bother; in fact, it was still interesting, but the time could have been better spent explaining the background behind the VRA or other history.

I’m not going to talk more about the film, as I don’t want to give anything more away. The movie was extremely successful in teaching an important, yet under appreciated topic. It was easy to understand and follow, while it explored the ways that gerrymandering can hurt our democracy. Undoubtedly, the movie was extremely biased against legislators drawing districts, but the movie is still an extremely important teaching tool. Reichert is knowledgeable about the issues–he took questions from the audience after the movie and I was extremely impressed that he knew all of the factual answers. The only problems I had were that the VRA wasn’t explained enough, the Prop 11 campaign part was too long, and the prison-counting part was way too short.

All in all, though, the movie is extremely important for any citizen of this country. I highly recommend it for anybody in the SSP community. Also, it was nice to hear Ed Rollins call us–the people into reconfiguring districts–“nerds.” Rollins also said our work was important though.

Thanks and I hope that was coherent…

12 thoughts on “Gerrymandering Movie: A Review”

  1. For the thoughtful review.  And for coming to see the movie!

    If NY-area folks are interested in seeing it, Tribeca added a fifth screening this afternoon (5/2) at 12:45 PM at the Village East Cinema.  This will be our last screening in NYC for a few months, probably.

    Hope to see you there…

  2. and from it apparently just about everything except maybe overreaching dummy-manders was covered in the doc.

    Or maybe controversial water contingency gerrymanders, but that is really getting way out into the weeds. Eventually the filmmaker would put most of his general audience asleep.

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