Directed by: Various Filmmakers
Premise: On Election Day 2016, film crews follow various voters around the United States as they cast their ballots and await the returns.
What Works: 11/8/16 is a time capsule of the 2016 presidential election and it is admirably broad in its scope. This is an observational documentary. It doesn’t have voice over and on-screen text is used minimally. The filmmakers let the images and the subjects speak for themselves and the picture captures the mood of Election Day 2016 and especially the joy or disappointment (depending on your point of view) of the results. Especially notable is the absence of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This is not a documentary about them. It’s about the voters and the filmmakers have assembled a cultural cross section of the country including middle and working class white Americans as well as citizens of color and immigrants. The picture also includes Democratic and Republican leaning households as well as third party voters. The filmmakers offer us just enough information about each person to get a sense of who these people are and there are a few compelling voices, namely an African American citizen recently exonerated from death row and a homeless couple in Hawaii who did not vote but do react to the electoral results. The filmmakers don’t appear to side with one camp or another nor do they second guess voter’s decisions. This is a humanizing film especially as it gets to the end. Some latter parts of the documentary take place at a pro-Trump gathering and the filmmakers also shot at the Clinton watch party at the Javits Center in New York City. In these scenes the film reaches an emotional climax and 11/8/16 has a visceral arc to it akin to a sports film. For viewers too young to remember that night, the documentary gives a sense of what happened and for everyone else it places viewers back in that moment. But the filmmakers also force us to acknowledge the people who didn’t vote the way we did and see them as fellow citizens.
What Doesn’t: The approach that the filmmakers bring to the subject matter is inherently limiting. We only see these people for a single day and 11/8/16 crosscuts several different groups so everyone’s screen time is limited. The approach serves the filmmakers’ purposes but it keeps 11/8/16 on the surface of things. The citizens offer rationalizations for their votes but their comments mostly reiterate empty cable news platitudes. That in itself is revelatory and we observe how people voted and see how they felt about the results in the immediate aftermath but the design of 11/8/16 limits what the film is able to tell us about the 2016 election and what it meant either culturally or individually.
DVD extras: None.
Bottom Line: 11/8/16 is a valuable time capsule of the 2016 presidential election. It may not tell us much about what that event represented but the film does what it’s intended to do: capture a moment and the way it was perceived by citizens of various economic, racial, and political stripes.
Episode: #825 (November 1, 2020)