“How Democracy Works Now,” a documentary series about the immigration debate since 2001, gets its world premiere at the New York Film Festival this week, a spotlight on the members of Congress, staffers and advocates who have toiled for years on one of the most important, and volatile, issues the country faces.
Filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini have been rolling the camera in the Capitol — and Arizona, Iowa, and wherever the story took them — and have brought 10 of 12 planned films to the Lincoln Film Center in Manhattan. They train the lens on public figures that range from President George W. Bush, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., but also the many, many Hill staffers whose job it is to stay out of the limelight. Along the way are the other major players in the debate, such as Frank Sharry, former head of the National Immigration Forum and now head of America’s Voice, and Randy Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
It’s hard to do justice to the magnitude and intricacy of the project. It’s like a crash course on how Congress works, but it goes deeper, because it shows also how things in places like Mason City, Iowa, affect the debate, and vice versa. Robertson and Camerini are there to observe moments, particularly on Capitol Hill, that are so far from the shrillness of what normally passes for public debate that it seems like a different world.
The earnestness and professionalism with which the series’ subjects approach the debate is almost shocking, as they work to address an issue that will help define the future of the country and how it relates to other countries. And if ever you’ve wanted to see what’s going on behind that closed door, or what those staffers are talking about in the cafeteria, this series shows that.
The screenings begin Thursday, with a screening of “Last Best Chance” that started at 3:30 p.m., and continue Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Lincoln Center with “The Game is On” and “Mountains and Clouds” at 8 p.m. On Friday, “Sam in the Snow” shows at noon, “The Kids Across the Hill” shows at 2:15 p.m., “Marking up the Dream” shows at 4:30 p.m., “Ain’t the AFL For Nothin’” shows at 6:15 p.m., and “Brothers and Rivals” shows at 8:30 p.m. On Saturday, “Protecting Arizona” shows at noon and “The Senate Speaks” shows at 2:30 p.m. After “The Senate Speaks,” Robertson and Camerini, as well as several featured players in the debate, will host a panel discussion.
Roll Call After Dark is about what Washington does when it's not at work.
The District of Columbia is a cultural capital where you can you get your kicks from movies projected on the National Mall, lectures on vermouth or Russian avant-garde art. There's always something to do.
Jason Dick is the Hill Life editor for Roll Call and has also worked at Greenwire, CongressDaily and National Journal Daily during his time in Washington. @jasonjdick