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'Conventioneers'

Conventioneers, shot by married filmmakers Mora Stephens and Joel Viertel in the thick of New York's 2004 Republican National Convention, is one for the time capsule—not just as an irrefutable visual record of the size, diversity, and vitriolic fervor of the anti-Bush protest movement, but also as a demonstration of how unbridgeable the red-blue divide seemed in those dark autumn months. Taking their cue from Haskell Wexler's agit-prop semi-doc Medium Cool, the filmmakers play out the star-crossed romance of a married Bush-league Texas delegate (Matthew Mabe) and an engaged New Haven lefty firebrand (Woodwyn Koons) against a backdrop of power mixers, police barricades, and political theater in the streets. The cheating lovers' crises of conscience are contrasted with that of a left-leaning sign-language interpreter (Alek Friedman) who gets a top-dollar gig to translate Dubya's convention address. Should he stay true-blue, or swallow his convictions? That was the dire pragmatic choice facing anyone trying to work progressive angles in 2004 within the two-party system; the movie brings back that knot in the stomach, even if its improvised scenes often have the didactic feel of dramatized talking points, and the characters rarely interact with their surroundings as much as you'd hope until the climactic street scene. Unlike in Medium Cool, the most telling and dramatic events aren't shown: during their guerrilla shoot, the filmmakers and some crew members were rounded up by the NYPD as part of the Bloomberg- sanctioned crackdown on protesters and detained for as long as 41 hours, with charges eventually dismissed. Perhaps to share the pain, the movie closes with a sucker punch out of the Neil LaBute playbook—a sneaky preview of the misery awaiting everyone that November.

 
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