John Ennis directed the political first-person-shooter doc FREE FOR ALL! that’s screening on Friday night. We put 5 questions to him via email.
You crashed the Diebold campus, exposed vote rigging schemes, and hung out with Jerry Springer. What was the most fun part of making FREE FOR ALL!?
The two most fun moments in production and post-production:
Shooting Rev. Tony Minor’s church service in Cleveland. I’m a non-religious white guy taping in an austere black church in a depressed neighborhood…but wow. The singing, the response, the energy, the passion, it blew my mind. Even watching it later on tape.
The most fun I had editing was about a year ago: It’s the scene near the end of the film. I was cutting what I had just shot with Greg Palast at his home in Long Island. Palast fills in the broad strokes to strong arm the U.S Judiciary into intimidating voters. Tim Griffin is re-introduced as a partisan attorney appointment, after he had been running the caging operations in 2004 that denied thousands of African Americans their vote. And then you realize he was Rove’s assistant the whole time.
It reminded me of how Kaiser Sozsey was revealed in Brian Synger’s “The Usual Suspects,” so I started cutting with some of that score by John Ottoman. When I heard the ominous, lurking dark score swelling behind Palast’s emphatic gestures, I knew I had stumbled upon the proper dark tone this film needed. It was a new beginning in an already long process, but an exciting twist.
You’ve done film school, sketch comedy, music documentary, and reality TV. How did all this shape FREE FOR ALL!?
The more styles I get to try — be they depressing film school shorts, over the top sketch comedy, gritty crowd scenes at concerts, or contrived psychological head trips for Reality TV — the more little moments or touches linger in my mind as tools to use to paint my point. “That was such a great dumbfounded response from that woman when she thought we were serious…” or “Revealing that information a little later has a big impact.”
We are so post-modern, made up of media influences we are not fully cognizant of. The more we hone in on those impressions, the better we are as storytellers and truth seers.
You’ve had experience in both the commercial and the independent side of filmmaking. What’s the future of independently made political films?
We released our film online for free for everyone to see anywhere at any time. We therefore disqualified ourselves from most film festivals and distribution. Yet when people want important current political information, where do they go? Do they wait 4 months for a film festival to tell them what to think about? Do they wait for Netflix to bring them something compelling? No, they go to the Internets, a news junkie’s Jamaica.
Films like FREE FOR ALL! will thrive independently online, because it has so much information that people want, but they just can’t see it anywhere else.
You co-founded Video the Vote, a non-partisan video watchdog group that documents issues at polling places and uploads voting problems onto YouTube. At what point did you go from filmmaker to organizer?
To be absolutely honest, while I was still trying to interview politicians and journalists around Ohio, I was very reluctant for any of this poll monitoring stuff to get into the film or even online, in case a Google search made me seem too partisan to ask pertinent questions. So at some point, there was a double life happening, where I would tell my camera crew I had to deal with this outreach organizing stuff, and they would wait around. But eventually, they got bored, so I let them tape me figuring the whole Video the Vote thing out. Later, I was glad they did.
The Free for All! Blog includes video of you at the DNC in Denver and clearly still involved in politics. Do you have plans for Nov.4?
Wow, November 4th. You spend years in anticipation of — and in dread of — that day. Myself, I will always be doing some form of election protection on election day, because it is fun and feels so right. Where I will be helping with Video the Vote this year is uncertain — I really love Ohio after this experience, and want to come back here. But I have found through doing VTV in 2006 and 2008, the non-swing states like California and New York have some of the most decrepit and ass-backward voting systems, so vigilance everywhere is the only solution.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
FOR A FREE PARKING PASS, CLICK HERE.