Behind the Scenes, Filmmakers Capture a Candid ‘11/8/16’

Documentary details a country divided, except in electoral ritual

The new documentary “11/8/16” tells the story of the historic Election Day through the everyday lives of several people. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

You might not be ready to relive last year’s historic Election Day, but the makers of the new documentary “11/8/16” are betting that the individual stories of people — from Massachusetts to Hawaii — confronting that epic political turning point will make for compelling viewing. 

The movie, which weaves together the stories of 16 different main characters from the morning, noon and night of Nov. 8, 2016, and eventually the early morning of Nov. 9, doesn’t just take the viewer into voting booths. It reveals the routines of these people as they hang out, eat, get haircuts, get their kids to school and soak in an election that has defined our public life since.

“We stuck the project with as many interesting and talented people as possible,” producer Jeff Deutchman said at a recent screening at Washington’s Landmark E Street Cinema, referring to both subjects and filmmakers. It will be available on Netflix and iTunes on Friday. 

Those subjects include a coal miner in West Virginia who sees the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as one of existential survival for his industry. It includes veteran journalists in Philadelphia and Los Angeles in a state of disbelief as everything they thought they knew after decades of covering politics got overturned in a couple of hours. It includes a man in Alabama who spent three decades on death row before being exonerated and was voting in his first election since. It even includes a homeless, ukulele-playing beachcomber in Honolulu.

Watch: Ready or Not, Here It Comes Again: ‘11/8/16’

And the dozens of filmmakers — Deutchman started with nearly 50 before whittling the number of stories to a manageable length — never really knew what they would get, because they were instructed to capture as candid a picture of each subject as possible. 

“Always err on the side of verite,” Deutchman said of his marching orders, which resulted in hundreds of hours of footage that he would then curate to make the 104-minute running time.

“It’s always preferable to capture candid moments,” he added. (That was as close as it came to a style guide for his collaborators.)

Among the filmmakers were Academy Award-winner Daniel Junge (“A Lego Brickumentary”); Alison Klayman (“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”); Andrew Beck Grace (“Eating Alabama”); and Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker (“Gunner Palace”), as well as the scores of others whose stories and subjects didn’t make the final cut. 

That doesn’t mean it was an easy project to compile. 

“I think I went crazy for a period of time,” Deutchman said. He started his work shortly after the election, watching raw footage and ended up reliving Election Day, over and over, for months. 

In the same boat

One of the subjects, Christina Bellantoni of the Los Angeles Times, is a former editor-in-chief of Roll Call. She was running coverage in the Times’ downtown office that night. Bellantoni and her colleagues were doing a Facebook Live session when Pennsylvania was called for Trump.

She said she thought that segment would make it into the movie because it showed the shocked reaction of the newsroom as they realized that Trump would very likely be the next president — something few journalists, or even the Trump supporters in the film, anticipated. 

It didn’t, but the filmmakers did get her on camera, brushing her teeth that morning.

There are enough moments of shocked disbelief in the movie, perhaps, that it wasn’t necessary to communicate how incredible a moment it was, not just for journalists but the country.

And maybe showing people spitting toothpaste into the sink shows we’re all essentially in the same boat, despite our many differences, Bellantoni said. 

“What I liked about it was that people had different political viewpoints, but they all had common experiences. The things that unite us was what people do day to day, getting haircuts, watching television. I came away more hopeful after watching it,” she said. 

Deutchman has been down this road before, having pulled together a similar project capturing stories for “11/4/08” when Barack Obama was elected president.

“Every eight years, I’m a filmmaker,” Deutchman said. He usually plies his trade as a producer and distributor. 

So would that count out 2020, which could be just as significant an election, for Deutchman and his merry brand of flicksters? 

“2020 is too soon. I don’t think I’d be ready,” he said.

And maybe the audience wouldn’t be ready either. 

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