In director A.J. Schnack's appealing new documentary, Convention, Denver's 2008 Democratic National Convention is less the carefully stagecrafted culmination of a bruising primary than a time of absolute crisis—for protesters, mayor's aides, reporters on deadline, and security task forces alike. As the Wiseman-concise title suggests, this is chiefly a behind-the-scenes cross section of the DNC blowout, though we do see snippets of the major speeches, not to mention the downtime dancing in the aisles of ecstatic delegates.
Before it takes an unwelcome last-minute turn into we-were-a-part-of-history treacle, Convention offers a hopeful but not naïve portrait of American democracy: It's certainly too beholden to razzle-dazzle (Schnack scores his film to gently ironic patriotic brass-band music), but at the end of the day even the marginalized protesters get heard (disgruntled veterans win some face-time, however nominal, with an Obama staffer). To capture all of the simultaneous goings-on, Schnack deployed a number of documentary filmmakers, who get equal billing. The press notes describe this canvassing approach as "[t]aking a page from the Obama campaign," which probably explains why the film, featuring as many dissenting voices as enthusiastic rah-rahs, always errs on the side of optimism.
This easy-way-out good cheer is disappointing, but Convention's mostly light tone also allows for some very funny moments, running the gamut from the incongruous (one member of the activist group Recreate 68 goes on a Jamba Juice run; a security official admits to liking Rage Against the Machine, "kind of a '90s band") to juicy, if somewhat cryptic, inside-the-Beltway tidbits (organizers marvel at the size of Nancy Pelosi's entourage; one Denver Post editor lets slip something about Howard Dean pledging to endorse Obama if he says the words "Mile High Stadium" onstage). Convention takes a refreshingly irreverent look at the pomp, but its view of the circumstance remains a little too Wonder Bread.
Opens June 4