When Peter Smoczynski came to Guelph a few months ago with his documentary film project Election Day: The Rise of Voter Suppression, it was still in bite-sized pieces meant to galvanize the next phase of production. The version shown Saturday to a crowd of special guests and Fair Vote Guelph members was a movie now with form, though still incomplete. But in there was the beginning of something that promises to be both compelling and informational if you’re someone that’s concerned about the direction of our democracy.
Smoczynski was very clear at the beginning of the screening that this was not the finished film. There are segments that are not yet complete, others that he did not have legal cover to show in public yet, and there’s still material he wants to film regarding the present election that he wants to get. He called the 47 minutes and 47 seconds he showed Saturday as the “more journalistic stuff.”
He also wanted it made clear that the subject matter of Election Day is about more than one campaign. “It’s not about Stephen Harper,” he said, “it’s about anyone that wants to mess with our democracy. […] That’s what I’m thinking of, I’m thinking of the long game.”
What this portion of Election Day showed was a completed segment on the 2008 robocall in Saanich-Gulf Islands where someone posing as a representative for the local NDP candidate Julian West, who had withdrawn from the race but whose name was still on the ballot, called residents in a “get out the vote” effort. An interview with Liberal candidate Briony Penn was featured in the segment, while interviews with Tom Mulcair, Elizabeth May, and former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley were also prevalent.
A brief segment dealt with the Guelph robocalls cased and included part of an interview with Michael Sona. Smoczynski said there was more with Sona, as well as interviews with Irwin Cotler, Frank Valeriote, and University of Guelph professor Michael Keefer that will be included in the finished film.
“This is not the film, it’s bits and pieces to let people know that their efforts have been appreciated,” Smoczynski told me by phone Sunday. For people in Guelph who have a particular stake in voter suppression after 2011, he said that he wanted them “to see the work that was going on, and the look and style of [the film].”
But for everyone that was at the screening Saturday, Smoczynski added that even though you saw it, “you really haven’t seen it,” he said.”We have tonnes of evidence,” Smoczynski said about the film. “It’s really important now that we start looking around and see what’s happening around us and see how Bill C-23 will play out.”
In terms of what can be expected from the finished film, Smoczynski said that it will feature 10 chapters, and start at the literal beginning with Confederation at Charlottetown in 1867. And it won’t be just the dry history or the investigative story either. “There are going to be other moments and some funny stuff,” he said. One such scene was included in the working print where a Yukon voter visually demonstrated just how far outside of town a robocall was trying to send him to vote. Smoczynski added that he also has a funny story from Frank Valeriote that will be in the finished film.
There’s still a lot of work to be done on the film, and not just the last bits of shooting and editing. The technical requirements of post-production are ongoing, and Smoczynski would also like to hire a narrator for the film once completed. (The director himself narrated the working print.) All-in-all Smoczynski expects the film will be about two hours long, and said that a completion date of February or March is “not too unrealistic.” Funds are still being raised to complete the movie through a GoFundMe page.
In the end, Smoczynski said that making this isn’t about one election, or one incident of voter suppression, his goal was to make “an accounting” of our democratic process at this point in time. “When people look at it three or four years from now, I still want it to mean something,” he said.
The working print of Election Day will be making the rounds over the next week from the University of Toronto to McMaster, to a few high schools.