NYFF51: How Democracy Works Now

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In 2001, the filmmaking team of Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson—fresh from touring the country with Well-Founded Fear, their 2000 documentary about political asylum and the INS—decided for their next project to focus on immigration reform. “We jumped in,” they later wrote, “not really so much to follow the immigration story, but more the drama of a social movement as it meshed/aligned with a large political wave.” In the summer of 2001, reform seemed inevitable in Washington, which was the logical place to begin. And then 9/11 happened, and everything changed. The filmmakers contemplated the possibility of abandoning their weeks-old project, and then decided to press on: they were already in it for the long haul. Over the next decade, they insinuated their way into the offices of congressmen and senators on all sides of the political spectrum, gained unprecedented access to hearings and bill-mark-ups and back room machinations, fanned out across the country to film the organizers and activists working at the grass-roots level in battleground states like Arizona. They saw the dream of a comprehensive bill die and then come back to life; they followed their protagonists, from Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum to conservative political operative David Kensinger, from the tireless immigration reform advocate Alfredo Gutierrez to the equally tireless Cecilia Muñoz (then an immigration advocate, now working in the Obama administration), as they gathered energies, mobilized, suffered crushing defeats and started all over again; and they saw Senator Ted Kennedy fight his last great political battle. And they filmed it all.

One film quickly turned into a series of 12, nine of which have been completed and one of which is nearing completion. Some of their material has been seen in various stages (as assemblies or works in progress) and some in finished form, but the films have never been shown altogether. Taken as a whole, these quietly authoritative and masterfully constructed films—each one compelling on its own, many of them down-to-the-wire political thrillers—form one epic story of our political process during a time of monumental change. They tell the story of how our democracy works, right now.

And by they way—Michael and Shari are still filming…

In This Series

Last Best Chance

Last Best Chance

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 101 mins

Spring 2007, and Senator Ted Kennedy must find a new Republican legislative partner for immigration reform - how far back will he bend to strike a deal?

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The Game Is On

The Game Is On

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 91 mins

Summer, 2001, and immigration reform is in the air with Senators Ted Kennedy and Sam Brownback in bi-partisan unity and the White House on board. And then, 9/11 happens…

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Mountains and Clouds

Mountains and Clouds

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 93 mins

Spring 2002, immigration reform is back on the docket but everyone has become security-minded, and the White House proposes adding a provision to a security bill that frustrates everyone.

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Sam in the Snow

Sam in the Snow

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 93 mins

Summer 2002, Kennedy and Brownback are back to work on immigration, and everything is sent into a tailspin with the White House’s intention to create a new Department of Homeland Security.

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The Kids Across the Hill

The Kids Across the Hill

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 82 mins

Winter 2003, Kennedy is looking for a new co-sponsor across the aisle, and young congressmen from both parties start working on their own bills.

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Marking Up the Dream

Marking Up the Dream

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 60 mins

Fall 2003, and the “Dream Act” - which offers in-state tuition to undocumented students and citizenship to those who graduate - is being sent through the brutal “mark-up” process.

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Ain’t the AFL for Nothin’

Ain’t the AFL for Nothin’

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 80 mins

Autumn 2003, Kennedy is still looking for a co-sponsor and his most promising candidate wants a temporary guest-worker provision, which presents a problem to the unions.

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Brothers and Rivals

Brothers and Rivals

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 92 mins

Fall 2004, and aides for Kennedy, John McCain and Arizona Republican congressmen Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake join forces to create a new bill that includes the best of all the old bills.

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Protecting Arizona

Protecting Arizona

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 99 mins

Summer 2004, an anti-immigrant statewide initiative called “Protect Arizona Now” is on the ballot, pro-immigration forces mobilize throughout the state, and the nation watches.

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The Senate Speaks

The Senate Speaks

Michael Camerini | Shari Robertson | 2013 | 96 mins

Early 2006, Kennedy is back in action, and the house passes a harsh bill with no amnesty provisions, prompting nationwide pro-reform rallies and the worry that politics will trump policy.

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