With just a few pieces of video equipment and a budget of less than $500, the mission seemed overwhelming: Document the political strife and polarization of the 2004 presidential election.
Nonetheless, with borrowed cameras and their own money, local filmmakers Seth Ashley, 26, and Christy LeMaster, 28, hit the streets of Columbia, where a distinctive blend of college-town liberals, Midwest conservatives and everyone in between were preparing for a day that would capture the attention of the entire world.
The result, a 45-minute film titled “Election,” will premiere Sunday at Ragtag Cinemacafé at 8 p.m.
The movie takes a fast-paced view of political ideals and features interviews with residents and footage of key local events, from deadline pressures at the Columbia Missourian to shouting anti-war protesters along Broadway.
“We had no idea what it was going to be,” Ashley said. “We were like, ‘Let’s get some cameras and see what we find.’ ”
LeMaster said she was motivated by her anxiety about the outcome of the contest between President Bush and the challenger, Sen. John Kerry.
“I was feeling completely without power,” LeMaster said. “I really wanted to document what was happening in the town I live in.”
The film is built around on-the-street and sit-down interviews with a range of people, from voters to those whose views were more specialized. The questions asked depended on the people, Ashley said. For some, like Missourian Executive Editor Tom Warhover and Terry Smith, vice president of Columbia College, the filmmakers asked specific and probing questions. People encountered on the street usually needed no more than, “What do you think of the election?” to get them to speak their minds. Ashley sought to give equal time to voices on both sides of the intense political divide in the 2004 campaign, fearing his film would otherwise be compared to Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911,” a documentary that has been criticized as one-sided and biased.
“The hardest thing was to find people other than liberal college students,” Ashley said. “We had to work to find them.”
Ashley and LeMaster did all of the filming in the days leading up to the Nov. 2 election. At that point, they acquired the help of friends stationed around town, asking questions and filming responses.
In the end, the filmmakers had twenty-five hours of footage, and it was up to Ashley to edit the film. “I got the footage and ran off to New York,” he said. There, he spent as many as sixteen hours a day tediously editing the work into a cohesive final cut.
“Half the film is a celebration of exercising our liberty,” he said. “The other half is about how ridiculous the whole game of politics is, how little we really know about some of the issues we’re voting on.”
For the soundtrack, Ashley used music from four different bands he has performed with. Using his own music saved him the hassle of obtaining copyrights for other music, he said.
Ashley became interested in film while at the University of Southern California. He came to MU to obtain his master’s degree in journalism and has lived here since his graduation in 2002. Along with LeMaster, who has a theater production background, Ashley was curious about how an important national election is viewed at the local level.
“It was nice to narrow it all down,” Ashley said of making the film. “It took this huge, enormous thing and put it on a scale you actually could examine.”
LeMaster said it was moving to see the exhilaration of people involved in the election process. For example, the pride election workers took in collecting and counting ballots was “really beautiful,” she said.
Ashley said he hopes that despite being a relatively brief snapshot of a historic event, “Election” will make viewers think and pay more attention to what their government is doing.
“I want them to laugh and cry,” Ashley said.