Shooting for Democracy (Singapore & USA, 56 min)
Directed by: Meghan Shea
Shooting for Democracy brings together high school students in the world's smallest emerging democracy with those in its most established. Inspired by the coincidence of Bhutan's first democratic elections taking place during a US presidential election year, Shooting for Democracy follows students as they participate in an international video education program. The result is a unique juxtaposition that examines youth perspectives on democracy during the 2008 election year. Combining professionally produced footage with excerpts from students' work, Shooting for Democracy follows the personal experiences of students while exploring the social and political contexts of these distinct nations, now linked by their use of a democratic system. Shooting for Democracy begins in March of 2008 during Bhutan's final phase of democratic transition. The film chronicles students in Thimphu as they learn the basics of documentary film making and record their national transformation. The students venerate their king and defer to his wisdom while simultaneously embracing the advent of their new political system proclaiming, "Democracy, I am ready for that!" The film then travels to the United States hearing from students in Brooklyn, New York and Walpole, Massachusetts during the US presidential elections. Their student videos speak to the partisan nature of politics in America and the media deluge that the elections create. The students\' earnest, honest films create a synergy between the youth voices. The audience watches as these high school students document and respond to the historical and shocking election results in their respective countries.
Q and A With Meghan Shea, Producer and Director of documentary film, 'Shooting for Democracy' (2009).
Casting a vote, is that a point you wanted to make in this film?
Casting a vote is important. We wanted to make young people feel that they have a role in the democratic process. Whether they could physically vote or not. We wanted to show that they were engaged in the process.
How long did it take you to make this film?
We started in November 2007 and finished in early 2009. How was shooting in Bhutan? Wonderful and expensive and cumbersome. The crew had to pay a daily tourist tax of $250 per person while in production in Bhutan. The country is not overrun with tourists. For an independent film crew working there it was extraordinarily expensive. The people in the country were friendly and very willing to talk.
What was Bhutan like?
Bhutan is incredibly beautiful and rural. There is very little development. There is no other place like it. No international business presence. No Starbucks , no home depot. So you really get a clear view of what life is like.
Can you explain Gross National Happiness?
In an interview with the King of Bhutan he went into how one can measure GNH. It includes the general well being of the people. They are concerned with how the country develops and what is good for the Bhutanese people. It is actually taken very seriously. It is a government policy.
Then it was back to the grit of Brooklyn?
The political culture was a shock. In Bhutan, the media is young and the tone of the media and people had optimism there. In Bhutan, people were hesitant to talk on camera about what party they were voting for. In America, the kids were exhausted at election time by the media coverage. People seemed bombarded with media coverage in United States.
What can aspiring filmmakers taken from seeing this film?
When we started out to make this film people said "This has been done many times over, why do you want to do this?" But we had our own interesting perspective of Election 2008. If you think you have an interesting perspective on a story to tell, don’t let people dissuade you from that.
By Richard Kagan
This insightful, intelligent documentary which runs just under 59 minutes, is directed by Meghan Shea and co-produced with Michael Rogers. This film is really a video education program. In it, cameras are given to youngsters in 3 schools as disparate as one can image. One of the classes is from Lungtenzampa Middle School in Thimphu, Bhutan, about as far away from the United States as one can get. In this budding democracy, boys and girls from ages13-15 learned and shot film about the unfolding democracy in their country. Their monarch decided to "de-volve" into a democratic political state, and the nation was holding its first national elections in March 2008. Months later in America, the Election of 2008 was fast approaching, and Persistant Productions, the film company behind Shooting for Democracy, gave cameras to students in Urban Assembly H.S. in Brooklyn, NY and in a high school in Walpole, MA. The students captured the anticipation, the buildup, and the excitement of the upcoming elections on camera. Students asked questions of both students and teachers. In Bhutan, the students were intelligent, and cognizant of the issues regarding democracy and of the change from a monarchy state. They spoke English surprisingly well. In Bhutan, it was the monarchy itself that decided change was needed and it was mandated that political parties be formed, and a democracy was born. The Bhutanese people loved their King and were reluctant for the change, but gradually accepted it and some of the students were excited. "Democracy, I am ready for that," exclaimed one student. The strength of the film is that is allows the viewer to see the vastly different cultures of Bhutan, a small country nestled in the mountains near Nepal and the urban cultural mix in United States. The film focuses on a small nation grappling with an infant democratic society, and the urgency of the choice: Obama vs. McCain. The hype was strong in the United States, cameras tellingly caught a young woman hawking McCain and Palin condoms in Times Square. That says a lot of how our society packages our candidates. However, the real issue is that young people are getting involved in a political process in both countries and they are informed and they care. In Bhutan, it takes two days for a man to reach his polling place. In America, the film showed long lines of voters waiting to make a decision on Election Day. The interviews of students is effective. We see an upper middle class student population in Walpole, and the exuberance and passion of students at the Brooklyn school. One student in Brooklyn spoke about seeing her parents crying with joy after learning that Obama had won the election. In Walpole, another spoke about filtering through so much media information and then making an informed choice. The teacher of the class in Walpole, Stephen Waisgerber, pointed out how it was very important that young people be involved in the democratic process. And, then to go out and cast your vote. Young people did go out and cast their votes in the 2008 election. As one student put, "Everybody is happy to be making history." In Shooting for Democracy, you can see that history come alive for young Americans and the Bhutanese students.