Morningstar Entertainment // 2008 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 12th, 2008
The road to the White House in 2008 runs through the Ohio state house in 2006.
Back in 1998, former Ohio Attorney General Lee Fisher determined to run for the office of governor. Excited about the prospect of this, Fisher's 14-year-old son Jason picked up the camcorder and recorded as much material as he could to get a behind-the-scenes look. Fisher was defeated, and his entire family was rather deflated. Everything ended on a rather unceremonious note, with a crazy woman leaping onto the stage during Fisher's concession speech and swearing noisily. Fast forward eight years, and Fisher is once again stepping back into the world of politics. This time, he has decided to join gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland, offering himself as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Jason, now 22 years old, picks up the camera once again to chronicle an even more in-depth look at what goes into a political campaign.
Swing State is an interesting political documentary that is most notable for its unique viewpoint. Rather than some campaign worker or professional filmmaker tagging along with a campaign, we are able to see the entire campaign through the eyes of Jason Fisher and his family. It's a considerably more intimate and candid documentary than we are used to seeing about this sort of thing, and compensates in freshness for what it lacks in slick professionalism. It also makes an attempt at examining the importance of the state of Ohio, which has always played a crucial role in Presidential elections. Hilary Clinton (one of many notable democratic politicians who turn up) offers her thoughts: "The Democrats can win the election without Ohio, but the Republicans can't. If we can elect a Democrat to the office of governor in Ohio, then there's a good chance that the Democrats can take this state in the next presidential election." As I write this review, Barack Obama has just been elected President of the United States. He won Ohio.
One important thing to note is that this documentary is most assuredly not unbiased. Sure, most documentaries these days are promoting some sort of political viewpoint, but this one does so more than average. In many ways, it is a celebration of democrats and the democratic party, and wholeheartedly supports the idea of democrats finding ways to take power by hook or by crook. Republicans are never offered a fair opportunity to present their point of view, and are only shown when they are doing something embarrassing or behaving in a rude or unpleasant manner. Despite the candid nature of the film, Fisher is painted as a noble hero, while his opponent J. Kenneth Blackwell is portrayed as a corrupt, sinister, lying cutthroat. Boo! Hiss! Ahem. So, if you're a GOP supporter, you may find yourself getting cranky if you watch Swing State. In fact, you may be a little uncomfortable if prefer documentaries to at least make a half-hearted attempt at objectivity.
That being said, can one reasonably ask for objectivity from the family member of a political candidate? The film offers an engaging viewpoint, and it is worthwhile because of this. Unapologetic political spin aside, I found Swing State to be an engaging film. I'm a bit of a political addict, and find the whole campaign process to be a very fascinating thing. I was surprised by just how much time Fisher spends making phone calls. It seems that almost every evening, he's calling friends, acquaintances, former supporters and potential supporters, asking them for a financial contribution and a vote. He sits at the computer typing endless e-mails, and dictates to his assistant when his fingers grow tired. He visits radio stations, makes speeches everywhere, and quickly begins to regret agreeing to let his son follow him around everywhere. At one point, Fisher is wandering through the house in his boxers. He turns around sees his son. "Oh, come on, get that out of here," he growls.
Jason Fisher may have intended the film as a portrait of his father, but it unintentionally also becomes a film about Jason's attempt to break out as a documentary filmmaker. Jason doesn't talk to us directly about his work very often, but we see his suppressed excitement as he scores brief interviews with a whole host of notable names: Hilary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Barack Obama, Madeline Albright, John Kerry, John Edwards, and numerous others. We actually see just as much of the interview prep as we do of the interviews themselves...Jason clipping microphones on ties, asking people if they would be willing to give him just a couple of minutes. The Fisher name seems to go a long way for him. Jason also has several minor arguments with his father about what is appropriate to film and what isn't.
The video quality is frequently kind of poor, as we are dealing with a large quantity of archival material here. Even so, I don't think that is a big liability for a film like this. The same applies to the sound, which is often a bit rugged but gets the job done. Supplements include a half hour of deleted scenes, trailer and a brief tribute to the late Stephanie Tubbs Jones.
Swing State has its share of flaws. In addition to the aforementioned bias (which is more a necessary side effect than a "flaw"), the soundtrack gets a bit too overbearing at times, certain potentially interesting areas aren't really covered, and the film has a few moments of padding that could have been snipped. Even so, Jason and co-directors John Intrater and H. Spencer Young have done a respectable job. If you are interested in the political process, live in Ohio, and/or are a passionate Democrat, then Swing State will probably tickle your fancy.
Worth a look, and not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Morningstar Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Tribute Video
* Deleted Scenes