The Election Day documentary '11/8/16' is a tough watch at times. But that’s the point.
Jeff Deutchman had a plan for Election Day in 2016: He tapped more than a dozen filmmakers to shadow more than a dozen different Americans on that pivotal day. The idea was to explore American diversity through its voting process — and that’s exactly what Deutchman and his filmmaking associates manage with 11/8/16, a documentary that opened in theaters Friday.
11/8/16 is a tapestry of 16 segments that follows a slew of people from different walks of life, beginning at the waking hours of Nov. 8, 2016, through the end of election night and Donald Trump’s improbable victory. From Hawaii to Vermont, we see cheers and tears from people as the polls close and states are called for one candidate or the other.
The film opens with snapshots of its different subjects: There’s Amrit in Queens, New York, a Sikh cab driver praying inside his car; then Eric, a coal miner in Summersville, West Virginia, who’s rooting for Trump. Eventually, we meet Hana in Kent, Ohio, who’s a College Democrat campaigning for Hillary Clinton, and Anthony Ray, a man who was convicted of two Alabama murders and later exonerated after spending 30 years on death row.
“I would give the filmmakers a general idea of what we were trying to do,” Deutchman, the creator and producer behind the documentary, said during a recent interview in New York City. “And they would come back to me with a list, like, ‘Here’s a few people who I know who I’ve always thought were interesting.’”
This is Deutchman’s second Election Day documentary. His first, 2010’s 11/4/08, focused on the 2008 presidential election that sent Barack Obama to the White House; that film took more of an international perspective, including footage from locations around the world. With 11/8/16, Deutchman and the 18 directors involved take a hard look within our country, exposing the anxieties that motivate people to vote the way they do. The reasoning might feel like well-covered ground at this point, but it’s still important to hear from the voters themselves, to see their stories, even if just for a day.
Take Tom, a small-business owner with a family in Franklin, Massachusetts, who proudly wears a MAGA cap at all times. “If the economy gets better, I could spend more time with my family,” he says at one point during the film. “That’d be huge.”
Tom is a Trump supporter partly because he wants a president he thinks he can depend on economically, and partly because he just doesn’t trust Clinton. He believes that Clinton could end up winning because she’s going to “cheat.”
“I think Donald Trump is the president that our country deserves, sadly.” — Denise from 11/8/16
A year since the election, Deutchman thinks we haven’t settled down as a nation at all. “I think it’s hard,” he said, “because those of us who are upset that Donald Trump is the president are struggling to balance the, in my view, justifiable anger and frustration with the respect for norms and civility.”
In the film, we also see philosophical divides play out among family members. During one section of the movie, a young woman named Denise in Kingston, New York, has a phone conversation with her father. She’s sliding toward bitterness and sees chaos ahead, but her father is hopeful.
“The feeling I have is that there is a general sense of decency in this country,” he tells her.
“You’re so optimistic, it’s ridiculous, Dad,” Denise says. “I think Donald Trump is the president that our country deserves, sadly, and I’m afraid that the misogyny is deep and he’s going to end up being our president… I think we are a bunch of racist, misogynistic, just kind of divided, hateful people.”
Father and daughter find no common ground, and he tells her that she’s too smart to think in such a reductive way. “You know, this ‘Make America Great’ thing,” he says. “It’s so funny. [America’s] already great.”
Deutchman said that scene is one of his favorite moments in the film. When asked if he sides with Denise or her father — basically, if he believes people are generally good and decent or if we live in a country full of closeted racists and sexists — he said he doesn’t know. “I see it both ways,” he answered. “I find myself struggling with it constantly.”
As for the rejoinder of “It’s already great” that Clinton and the Democrats often used in response to Trump’s slogan of Make America Great Again, Deutchman said he found that “to be a little tone-deaf. Because how can you say America is already great to the millions in this country for whom that is not their lived experience? Whether it’s because they can’t pay bills or don’t have health insurance or are seeing their young men being killed by policemen on the streets?”
“One of my favorite lines in the movie,” Deutchman added, “is when Anthony Ray says, ‘Black folks look at white people perhaps every day and ask themselves, “’How can someone be the way y’all are?’”
It’s a quote that captures the mood of our divided nation.
“You can take that phrase and apply it from the perspective of anyone towards anyone,” Deutchman said. “In a lot of ways, what I observed in the footage and all around me are people who just can’t believe that someone else can think the way that they do.”