In my job as a documentary maker, I am lucky to meet and get to know people from many different backgrounds who are kind enough to let me come into their world with my camera. They show me, and an audience of strangers, the things that are special to them in their bubble of lifestyle, politics, or worldview. If I do my job right, their stories resonate with the audience and bring us all a greater understanding of both our differences and the things we all share.
We all live in our own bubbles. Mine is the social justice Brooklyn bubble, where many of my friends and coworkers share my political and ideological values. So when my colleague, documentary filmmaker Lee Hirsch, asked me to join other directors to talk to people in swing states about their presidential candidates in the lead up to the 2016 election, I didn't hesitate. I saw it as an opportunity for me to gain a deeper understanding of other voters from different regions in this highly charged climate.
Local Voices is a Democratic Super PAC that has a simple approach: identify counties within battleground states where every vote matters, and then make a 1-minute film featuring a community member speaking from the heart about their vote.
No script, no narrator.
The idea of generating a conversation with someone giving their honest opinion - a perspective that would be seen and heard by their friends and neighbors through a local TV and online ad buy - was irresistible to me.
I ended up interviewing two people in southern Ohio counties surrounding Cincinnati: Joan Powell of Butler County and James Stepp of Warren County. Butler is a classic swing county, voting for McCain over Obama in 2008 and Obama over Romney in 2012. Warren County is more reliably conservative, with more than two-thirds of voters choosing McCain and Romney in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Throughout the process of shooting the ads, I learned that while Joan and James are lifelong Republicans in conservative-leaning districts, they are very different kinds of Republicans.
Joan, a 65-year-old grandmother, lives in an affluent suburb of Cincinnati (West Chester) and was president of the school board. She holds traditional family values close to her heart, and she has a strong sense of community.
I really felt for Joan's dilemma. A so-called "elusive Republican moderate," she is a likeable, civic-minded lady who votes on every single ballot, from city council to presidential. In this election, her party's presidential candidate alarms her. "How can he speak to black people the way he does? And he wants to ban people from this country for their religion? He is a bully and I'm scared of what comes out of his mouth. How can this be the role model for my baby grandchildren?"
Joan was, as she put it, stuck with a massive lemon of a candidate.
James is a 29-year-old truck driver who lives in a rural small town, Franklin, and is a proud "patriotic, conservative Republican."
James, well read and completely up to date on the finer nuances of the Electoral College, gave me insight into where his belief system came from and his heartfelt ideas of liberty, tolerance, and free market capitalism. His strategy seemed foreign and brilliant to me. He said, "I have never, ever voted for a Democrat. For anything. And I'm voting for Hillary because if Trump gets elected then the Republican Party, and all the conservative values that I hold dear, will be dead and gone forever. A vote for Hillary is a vote for the survival of the Republican Party. So I'm proud to say I'm with her."
James didn't know any Brooklynites:
James: You guys are cool. You guys must be bluer then blue.
Me: Yep, straight up progressive liberal. Bluer then all get out.
James: Honestly, what did you think of Ted Cruz? He was my guy.
Me: I think he's awful and creepy.
James: (shaking his head in disbelief): Really? I can't believe that. He's such a great guy.
Having these conversations with my fellow Americans and creating these short videos feels useful. In this painfully divisive environment that has become the new normal, coupled with this contentious election that is pushing people into an even starker "them and me" world, listening seems to be the best and only way to pop the bubble. Let's all do more of it?
About Local Voices
Founded in 2008 by Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Lee Hirsch (BULLY), Local Voices is a Democratic Super PAC that creates cinematic campaign ads in "battleground counties of battleground states." Using the authentic voices of rural voters and then airing those ads in that very same area, the Local Voices model has been tested and demonstrated to be uniquely persuasive. Over the last two election cycles, Local Voices has produced and aired more than 40 campaign ads, winning working class votes for the Democratic ticket. Local Voices' ad campaigns have garnered industry recognition, including Reed Awards for "Best Presidential Television Ad" (2008, 2012) and Pollie Awards for "Best Overall Campaign Series" (2008) and "Best Overall Television Campaign" (2012). See all ads on Facebook or YouTube. Join the discussion on Twitter.
All ads are paid for by Local Voices and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.