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Election Day Captured On Film—From Four Very Different Points Of View

Some 50 documentarians filmed voters from all backgrounds on Election Day for a movie due next year. Four directors explain what they saw.

Election Day Captured On Film—From Four Very Different Points Of View

[Photo: Flickr user U.S. Embassy/Un Yarat]

Even before we knew how it would end, most people had a sense on November 8 that the 2016 election, one way or another, would be history making. In the run-up to voting day, film producer Jeff Deutchman joined forces with the TV and film distribution company The Orchard to assemble a team of approximately 50 documentarians to follow voters from all walks of life in 25 states throughout the day.

The filmmakers shadowed a variety of subjects—from Native Americans in North Dakota to Cuban-Americans in Miami. The pool of interviewees included both Clinton and Trump voters, as well as some who supported neither. According to Executive Producer Paul Davidson, the directors' own political preferences were not relevant. "While our instincts are that many filmmakers are more liberal in their beliefs, we did not ask the filmmakers who they were voting for or which candidate they favored. Our goal was to create a nonpartisan look at America, plain and simple."

Adds Deutchman: "The film is nonpartisan but also unafraid of developing a point of view based on what we discover from the footage. The process of making a film like this is about being open-minded going in—trying to learn something about, and empathize with, a multitude of people—and then slowly uncovering truths that emerge, whether we like them or not." Deutchman is now in the process of editing all those strands into one cohesive film, titled 11/8/16, which is expected to be released sometime next year.

Fast Company checked in with four of the documentary’s contributors—Daniel Junge, Malika Zouhali-Worrall, Sterlin Harjo, and Vikram Gandhi—to hear about who they followed and what they witnessed that day. Here, they explain in their own words.

Daniel Junge

I was asked if I would film at the Los Angeles Times. It was clear that when we came into the Times, they were prepared for a "Hillary Wins" newspaper. They had already mocked up headlines, and the political cartoonist had his cartoon finalized, a picture of Hillary breaking through a glass ceiling that was in the form of the presidential seal.

I was following political editor Christina Bellantoni, a veteran political reporter new to the L.A. Times. She came from D.C. and definitely knows her stuff. I started the day at her house. She gave us her prediction for the day: Hillary in a landslide. We went to a polling station with her and got interviews of people coming out of the polls. The rest of the day was spent preparing stories.

It was as we were watching Florida transpire—probably at around 6 p.m. Pacific—that you saw the activity in the newsroom increase and people moving about, talking to each other, starting to hedge their bets. The political cartoonist didn’t have an "if Trump wins" scenario. At around 7 p.m., he went back to his desk and said, "I’d better get to work on an alternate here." I think he was done with that by about 9 p.m.

I think [this segment of the documentary] displays one of the major stories of the election, which is Beltway thinking versus reality. Pretty much across the spectrum, the media had it wrong. I think our story [among all of those in the documentary] wasn’t an emotional one. I have a feeling the other stories, with partisans, are more emotional. It was hard, because it was not a good night for me in terms of my politics. I wanted to express myself, but I was in a room of people who don’t do that, because they’re objective journalists.

Malika Zouhali-Worrall

I followed a local Arab-American, Muslim-American community organizer from Brooklyn, Debbie Almontaser. She had been working a lot to get out the vote in general but especially in the Muslim community in Brooklyn, campaigning for Hillary.

We filmed her poll watching at two polling stations in Bay Ridge [in southwest Brooklyn]. Debbie is a woman who wears a head scarf and is clearly Muslim. One guy went into the polling station with a "Hillary for prison" T-shirt, and came out asking if it was right that people in the polling station told him to do up his jacket. Meeting New Yorkers who were voting for Trump, even before the election results—that came as a shock, based on the naive assumption New Yorkers have that we live in a liberal enclave.

We spent most of the day under the general assumption that in the evening we would be seeing a Hillary victory. Debbie and her husband were invited as special guests to the Clinton election celebration that evening at the Javits Center. They were all dressed up, expecting to celebrate the culmination of their work. Debbie was watching the results coming in, pretty much with her mouth open, and her hand covering her mouth.

I think the story of my shoot [in the film’s context] will probably be about an American couple who really—not just for abstract ideological reasons—also had so much riding on the election in terms of personal safety. Being Muslim in America right now is really terrifying. This is a very regular American family. Their son served in the military and was a first responder after 9/11. They’re Americans that have as much a right to a positive future as anyone else.

Sterlin Harjo

I went to Standing Rock [the North Dakota Indian reservation that has become a center of protest]. I followed Dallas Goldtooth, the communications director for the Indigenous Environmental Network. I was checking in with him and his feelings about the election—or his lack thereof. A lot of the attitude there is that the federal government has turned their back. There’s kind of an attitude, "Why are we participating in this national election when this is happening to us?"

Dallas did not vote. All his focus has been on Standing Rock, and stopping the [Dakota Access] pipeline. He doesn’t feel like either side represents him or what the water protectors are trying to do at Standing Rock. Some of the people in the camp did vote, and so there was this conversation going on about what this means to Native Americans, and people weren’t feeling good about the result. There was a lot of shock and disbelief.

I feel my part of the film will remind people of the original people who were here in this country first, and that those people are still here, still fighting for their sovereignty, still fighting for their land. Regardless of how people at that camp feel politically, there’s so much love there. I hope that comes across.

Vikram Gandhi

I followed Adrian Ojeda, a Trump supporter. His mom is a Cuban immigrant, and he works for the Republican Party [in Miami]. His mother was voting for Trump because she trusted her son. His niece refused to vote for Trump or Hillary, and voted for Gary Johnson. When I asked why, she said, "I don’t know that much about him, so it’s easier to vote for him."

It dawned on me immediately, just as I was starting filming [Ojeda], that Trump was going to win. It was the amount of passion this man had against Hillary Clinton. He was voting against Hillary, and Trump was the guy. It was so strong. All the information he and all the people around him had gotten showed Hillary as a corrupt, lying politician.

[Ojeda] believed in same-sex marriage, in legalizing marijuana. He was cool. He was a good guy. And he’s brown. I met the gay couple that live next door to him, Cuban Trump supporters as well. If you spend time with a group of people, you start empathizing with them, and that started happening over the course of the day.

We went to a Trump rally. It was like Fear and Loathing in South Miami for me. We spent the next six or seven hours watching all the states come in. At 1 a.m., a French camera crew came up to me. They could tell I was brooding over my cell phone, checking Nate Silver, and they did an interview with me.

It was an interesting experiment to be with those people. It actually gave me faith. It was bittersweet. When you’re a brown person in a white society, you can have the attitude, "We should all be equal," or you can have the attitude, "There’s always somebody browner." Their attitude was: "We’re not Mexican, not Latinos: We are Cubans and we’re legal. We made it, it was rough . . . And now you [Latinos] have to deal with the same shit."

But there was a really sweet quality to everybody who was there. I don’t know how we got this polarized, but it made me think there needs to be a way to bridge the gap. Otherwise the nation gets more and more divided—and radicalized.

Interviews have been condensed and edited.

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