An unconventional documentary

Director Chris Strouth’s “Unconvention” details both the shocking and the mundane events of the 2008 Republican National Convention

Director Chris Strouth aimed to objectively exhibit the events of the RNC with his documentary Unconvention.

Image by Steve Maturen

Director Chris Strouth aimed to objectively exhibit the events of the RNC with his documentary “Unconvention.”

âÄúUnconventionâÄù DIRECTED BY: Chris Strouth RATED: Not Rated SHOWING: St. Anthony Main, April 26, 5:15 pm It has now been more than seven months since the 2008 Republican National Convention came to its resounding end. The events of those four intense days continue to play out, yet many have already forgotten what exactly transpired. In his first political documentary, âÄúUnconvention,âÄù local director Chris Strouth combats this widespread amnesia by exhibiting a broad collection of interviews and firsthand accounts of both the order of the convention and the mayhem on the streets. The result is an engaging, at times terrifying, record of the 2008 RNC. What sets the film apart is the style in which it is presented. Strouth doesnâÄôt attempt an all-encompassing narrative; he doesnâÄôt even make a political statement. Instead, he simply tells the story through the filmed experiences of journalists from a variety of political and social backgrounds. These ranging perspectives help tell all sides of the story, and while no film is free of bias, âÄúUnconventionâÄù certainly takes a crack at complete objectivity. A&E spoke with Strouth about the convention, protestors and the role of the journalists in todayâÄôs media. What were the issues that you wanted to deal with in this film? The movie is as much about the media as it is about the events of the moment: what really got caught, what didnâÄôt get caught. ItâÄôs not a film about protest; itâÄôs not a film trying to convince someone. Our way of thinking was that this whole process is kind of insane and there might be a better way to handle it. Our perspective was: weâÄôre not pro-protester, weâÄôre not anti-protestor, weâÄôre not pro-cop, weâÄôre not anti-cop; we just think the whole thing was idiotic. And it was amazing to me that people who lived in St. Paul didnâÄôt realize there was a firefight going on. The amount of tear gas, percussion grenades, all the stuff that went off and you donâÄôt really get it. The footage from CNN of this girl being hit by bikes was one of the only images that got into mainstream media. I think it says a lot that it was just a moment, and thereâÄôs so much information out there that itâÄôs a moment that got completely lost. Even though it was on CNN, you didnâÄôt hear a lot about it. The other thing that really got us was the arrest of the journalists. Journalists had such a strange role in this. We have footage from this guy who is the editor of Variety and he got arrested as a protester. This is like a Brooks Brothers kind of guy and they took his cameras and a lot of the footage he got, and thatâÄôs draconian; thatâÄôs just not right. But at the same time youâÄôve got a lot of people who were like, I have a blog and therefore I am the press and they made their own press passes. TheyâÄôd go write about something and then theyâÄôd go protests and theyâÄôd use these press passes as a get out of jail free card. Our thing on that is if youâÄôre a journalist, youâÄôre a journalist. You might not be a journalist all the time, but when youâÄôre doing that process you have to be in that mindset. The film comes off as comparatively unbiased. Did you have any political agenda or were you attempting fly-on-the-wall neutrality? We really tried to take the pure documentary approach. Tim Sherno [KSTP reporter] said a thing in the film thatâÄôs great, âÄúIâÄôm here to witness. I am the unblinking eye.âÄù ThatâÄôs totally it. WeâÄôre not there to persuade; we just wanted to shine a light and show the ludicrousness of the situation on both sides; the circus element. There were people throughout this that we thought were absolutely ludicrous. My favorite moments are when people from either side would at first say something that sounded rational, and then as they got further and further they become, you know, Mussolini. But thereâÄôs always going to be a slight slant whether itâÄôs intentional or not; you canâÄôt avoid that. I know that the film is a little more sympathetic on the left than it is on the right, but itâÄôs mostly âÄî I donâÄôt want to say a centrist approach âÄî but just a common sense approach. When it comes to politics, people get very heated and they donâÄôt necessarily see past their perspective. What effect do you hope the film will have seven months after the events of the 2008 RNC? Basically I just want people to bear witness. My thinking about things like an atrocity in general âÄî and IâÄôm going to go ahead and call this an atrocity âÄî is that if you bear witness to it, it wonâÄôt happen again. News moves so fast these days that everything gets lost. The RNC was just like a bad cocktail; people wanted to swallow it down and try not to think about it anymore. But weâÄôve got to know our mistakes or weâÄôre destined to repeat them over and over again. We like to talk about politics at parties. We like to talk about politics in a way thatâÄôs pretty unobtrusive, but itâÄôs a very strange notion that because someone watches the news they think theyâÄôre politically active or politically conscious. ThereâÄôs a big difference between just being aware and doing something about it and it doesnâÄôt take much to be involved and change the tide. If enough people, just ordinary people, actually said to their congressmen, âÄúHey, we donâÄôt want to do this anymore, letâÄôs not waste millions of dollars on conventions, lets figure out a better way to do this.âÄù So there is some criticism regarding the convention itself? Well, itâÄôs just a ludicrous process and now is an awesome time to rewrite the system, rebuild the infrastructure and find something that works, where everybody feels represented. ThereâÄôs this infrastructure that weâÄôve never updated, so even though weâÄôre living in this technological age of instant telecommunications and instant contact, we still organize in a way akin to Whig politics. ItâÄôs just sort of silly and weâÄôre not hearing people; everybodyâÄôs got their own agenda. One of the things that I would hope for with the film is that people be aware that we need to let go of our personal agendas just to see what agenda the world needs around us and kind of adjust to it. But I think really the film just bears witness. ItâÄôs a statement that says, âÄúThis happened. LetâÄôs try not to [expletive] it up again.âÄù