Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ari Berman, David Daley, Margaret Dickson, Anita Earls, Katie Fahey, Ruth Greenwood, Chris Jankowski, Justin Levitt, Vann Newkirk, Dale Schultz, Nick Stephanopoulos, Chris Taylor, Stephen Wolf
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Chris Durrance, Barak Goodman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 101
Date: 04/03/2020

Slay the Dragon (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fault Lines

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What's the most important documentary subject right now? Is it human health? Climate change and the environment? Food? Racism? In a way, Slay the Dragon encompasses all of those subjects. Directed by Chris Durrance and Barak Goodman, this documentary — available video-on-demand as of April 3 — tells the story of gerrymandering, an insidious practice that every American ought to be aware of.

Gerrymandering basically consists of drawing lines around voting districts that deliberately benefit one party over another. For example, if there's a little section of town that is overwhelmingly Democrat (say, a black neighborhood), then a line can be drawn around it to incorporate it into a largely Republican block, so that all the Democratic votes are nullified. The lines begin to take on bizarre shapes that have nothing to do with actual districts; one resembles a dragon, and so, hence the title.

In 2010, having stumbled after Barack Obama's election two years earlier, Republicans used technology and various gerrymandering experts to draw up the most sophisticated maps ever, causing an enormous sweep of Republican victories, even though Democrats dominated in the popular votes. This practice is not yet illegal, but it is most certainly cheating, and it robs the American people of proper representation (a basic right).

Presented with this film, Republicans will no doubt do what they always do, call it "fake news" and sling some insults at the Democrats, without offering any facts or concrete evidence in their favor. (They are, essentially, like the Joker taunting Batman or Goldfinger sneering at James Bond.) Meanwhile, Democrats that know nothing about gerrymandering need to see Slay the Dragon.

The documentary outlines the story with plenty of clear, easy-to-comprehend graphics and interviews with many experts. It offers evidence that this coup was carefully organized by Republicans, spurred by corporate interests; Republicans have then used their power to continue to make voting more difficult, and to pass their personal and corporate agendas, regardless of what voters want. This practice has also resulted in the current extreme polarization in government, eliminating all the centrists and moderates.

But the movie also follows the impressive grass-roots effort by Katie Fahey, a young woman who began with a post on Facebook and then managed to get the issue on the ballot in Michigan, where voters handily defeated it. She comes across as cheerful and good-spirited (as well as touchingly human; in one scene, she lets her smile droop for a moment and sighs, "I'm tired."), giving viewers the best possible reason to hang onto hope. It also follows an attempt to get the Supreme Court to do something, an attempt that was ultimately nullified by the latest justice to be appointed, Brett Kavanaugh.

The reason Slay the Dragon encompasses all the aforementioned pressing subjects is that Republicans consistently ignore those issues, while Democrats hope to face them and solve them. If gerrymandering continues, and Republicans continue to hold onto their seats, those issues will slowly eat America from within. If the Democrats succeed, which is what the majority of Americans actually want, then some good might be done. See the film's official site for more info.

Magnolia was unable to send me a physical DVD of this movie, but they were kind enough to provide a digital screener. The final DVD will include a commentary track with directors Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance, co-producer Grace McNally, and editor Seth Bomse.

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