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David Earnhardt’s Uncounted comes home for screening

by Mark Burger

There are some very good reasons why the North Carolina premiere of David Earnhardt’s documentary Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections is significant.

The first is the film itself, an amazingly concise and precise documentary about the many problems facing American voters today. Not with political or global or economic issues, but with the simple act of exercising their constitutional right and casting their vote on Election Day.

Another is that writer/producer/director Earnhardt, an Emmy award-winning television veteran making his feature debut with Uncounted, has some very strong ties to the Piedmont Triad region. He grew up in Greensboro (“Grades 1 through 12,” he laughs) and majored in film studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. “So there’s definitely a hometown feeling,” he says.

The premiere of Uncounted will take place this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Carousel Cinemas (1305 Battleground Ave., Greensboro). On Friday, there will be a special screening at the Paramount Theater (128 E. Front St.) in Burlington. Earnhardt will be on hand for both screenings, discussing the film and selling it on DVD.

These are only the latest stops on Earnhardt’s nationwide tour to promote the film and the issues it addresses. For the last two and a half months, he’s been to almost every state, showing the film at festivals or special screenings. There have also been nearly 400 house parties – in community centers, churches and people’s homes – in which viewers watch the film simultaneously and then discuss it. Often, Earnhardt will participate in a teleconference with these parties.

“We obviously encourage people to spread the word,” Earnhardt says. “This is very, very much a grassroots effort.”

The film delves into the controversies surrounding the 2000, 2004 and to a lesser extent, the 2006 elections – in which the voting process in this country was justifiably called into question. Making the film didn’t require a tremendous amount of digging; the stories were all there.

“Most people aren’t tuned in to the issue specifically,” Earnhardt observes. “They know some of the stories, but when they get this avalanche of information, people get mad.”

There were exit-poll discrepancies in 2004, instances of voter suppression that uncomfortably recalled the Jim Crow era, reports of undervoting in districts that defied logic, numerous instances of technical glitches in electronic voting. In some cases these hurdles seemed almost intentionally designed to dissuade voters. In some cases the media reported on them. In others, it did not.

And, for some reason, all of these little mishaps and slip-ups seemed to benefit the Republican Party. Uncounted explores that angle to a penetrating (and sometimes chilling) degree.

At heart, what chiefly concerned Earnhardt – and continues to concern him: “Does my vote count?”

When one considers the impact of that question, it goes beyond Republican or Democrat, or whatever one’s political leanings. Isn’t the principal concern for all Americans to ensure a fair democratic process? Isn’t that, after all, what America is all about?

“As big as the machine is, one single vote makes a difference,” Earnhardt says. “Each vote should count. That’s the simple truth of it.”

Eschewing a narrator, Earnhardt turned to politicians, political analysts, journalists and everyday voters to tell their stories, and all of them express concern that the election system in the United States is, at the very least, seriously flawed.

The film is an unabashed call to arms for Americans to be aware of those flaws, and to investigate them. It pushes the buttons, but it’s not a pushy film.

“I like in-your-face documentaries,” Earnhardt says, “but we wanted to be objective and make it very-evidence based – to lay it out and let it speak for itself.”

The evidence presented in Uncounted hits a nerve with audiences. “We get a real spectrum of people – and it makes everybody mad,” Earnhardt says. “Not just Democrats and Republicans, but independents, Green Party people… every spectrum.”

“We all want to believe we’re a part of this grand democracy,” Earnhardt says. “Voting is in our identity as a nation and as an individual.”

Making Uncounted was not without its difficulties, but Earnhardt’s interest and determination only intensified with the more stories he heard and the more people he met. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion on the subject – “and everyone should,” he notes.

“The hardest thing about this project is the hardest thing about any film project – how to edit nearly three-hundred hours of footage into a ninety-minute movie. How do I boil this down to its essence?”

Earnhardt began work on the film shortly after the 2004 election, and had a completed version ready in time for the 2006 election – “and then 2006 became a piece of the story,” Earnhardt says. “In 2006, there was more electronic voting than ever, and even with what happened in 2004, the results were not better. In some cases, they were worse.”

An optimist, Earnhardt believes the system can be fixed, but people need to be aware that their vote is at stake. We must all keep one thing in mind, he says: “Pay attention. This could happen again in 2008 unless we pay close attention.”

For more information about the film, see UncountedTheMovie.com.

For questions or comments, email Mark Burger at marksburger@yahoo.com.

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