by Jordan Riefe – Critics Choice – Most people’s eyes glaze over when you talk about gerrymandering. In fact, most people don’t even know what it is. Gerrymandering is what led to the disgrace and dismissal of House Majority Leader Tom Delay in 2006. It is a fundamentally un-Democratic process practiced by almost all American politicians, but not their Canadian or European counterparts. Despite its unethical underpinnings, it has always been part of our system and, by the look of it, always will be.
Following each census, district lines are redrawn within a State to reflect changing demographics. Gerrymandering is the practice of redrawing district lines so as to favor yourself and your party come election time.
Why are politicians involved in redrawing district lines when they are the ones most invested in the outcome? There is no satisfactory answer to this problem but getting politicians to vote for change on redistricting is like getting them to vote for campaign finance reform. Why would they change that of which they are the principal beneficiaries?
First-time director Jeff Reichert hangs his narrative on the push for Prop. 11 calling for fair redistricting in California. Leading the march is the diminutive but determined Kathay Feng. Helping her in her crusade is the anything but diminutive Governor Schwarzenegger. It is a compelling and hopeful victory for Prop. 11, but “Gerrymandering” leaves us with the feeling that there are few options left in defeating this direct assault on our democracy.
As noted, gerrymandering is not a topic most voters concern themselves with, yet few have any idea that the subject affects them in such a direct and profound way. Reichert does an exemplary job of explaining the issue and illustrating its impact, but still his movie feels flat. What’s missing is the human element; we don’t spend enough time with any one character to form an emotional bond.
“Gerrymandering” does, however, tackle a subject of towering importance told in a non-partisan and informative fashion. Before becoming a director, Jeff Reichert put together release campaigns for some of the best documentaries in recent years, including “No End in Sight” and “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” His work to date can be called a public service to civil-minded people everywhere and “Gerrymandering” takes its rightful place among those memorable titles.