Convention is an entertaining look at the nuts and bolts of the 2008 Denver National Democratic Convention that nominated Barrack Obama for president. It does not focus on the minutiae, like the number of chicken wings consumed or number of plastic blue bracelets exchanged for bodily fluids, nor does it deconstruct the nominating process with pols and delegates. What it does do is follow three groups of people—reporters from the Denver Post, Denver city planners, and leaders of the protest group Recreate68—as they engage in what everyone in the film agrees is a “once-in-a-lifetime” event.
While there were no seismic events like self-immolating Hillary delegates or riot baton cracked skulls, there is plenty of behind the scenes action. We see the Denver city officials, understandably concerned about the magnitude of the event descending upon them, more or less rise to the occasion and pull of a stunning event that has all the makings of a debacle.
The Denver Post reporters, facing massive odds from competing outlets like the brigade of 60 reports dispatched by the New York Times, struggle to gain access while rumors of the paper’s closing loom over their work. But the tastiest part of the film, and nearly all its comic relief, centers on the bumbling antics of the Recreate 68 protest group.
Convention deserves praise for the unintentional feat of simultaneously eliciting sympathy for the big brother-esqe city officials tasked with monitoring the protesters from a security cam feed HQ, while generating scorn for the hapless protesters. There is infighting, posturing, an utter lack of message discipline, and a severe need of at least one street level GPS to help guide the thin ranks of protesters around Denver’s city center. All the while city officials calmly track their movements while cracking wise on protester fashion.
Filmmaker AJ Schnack, whose films include the Independent Spirit award nominated Kurt Cobain doc About A Boy, assembled a dream team of fellow documentarians who shot 90 hours of film during the convention’s run and condensed it down to the movie’s 95 minute running time.
After Convention’s Wednesday centerpiece premiere at the AFI Silver Docs festival, I asked AJ if he felt that he had inadvertently chronicled the death of the modern protest movement in Convention. He responded that the Internet age has provided new tools for organizing that made him hopeful about the future of groups such as those beleaguered activists he chronicled in Convention.