Cleveland Free Times

 FANNIE LEWIS DAMN NEAR QUALIFYING FOR SAINTHOOD In  No Umbrella

FANNIE LEWIS DAMN NEAR QUALIFYING FOR SAINTHOOD In No Umbrella

Cleveland City Council and former Mayor Jane Campbell are apprehensive over a 26-minute short movie called No Umbrella, which screens during Shorts Program VI, at 4:30 p.m. on March 22. A Campbell friend has requested a preview copy of the film. So have members of Council. When festival staff alerted director Laura Paglin, the filmmaker responded: “Under no condition.”

Campbell has every reason to be afraid.

Paglin lives in Cleveland Heights. She’s the director of Nightowls of Coventry, a feature-length movie which was released at the Cedar Lee last year. It took five years to produce and cost $275,000. No Umbrella took a day and probably set her back $10. But it’s the one most likely to make her famous.

 PAGLIN

PAGLIN

November 2, 2004 — election day — Paglin loitered inside a Ward 7 voting precinct with a digital camcorder. The result is No Umbrella.

Sitting in the Lee Road Arabica two weeks before the Cleveland premiere, Paglin is poised, ready for the fight. Her thick dark hair stands out in artistic wisps above her intense stare. She’s just returned from Sundance, where No Umbrella was met with enthusiasm.

"It should be really interesting to see the reaction here," she says with a sly grin. She hands over a copy of No Umbrella in an unmarked manila envelope.

The film opens outside a polling location in downtown Cleveland, then moves inside, where a long line of people waits to cast votes for president. Some have been there for nearly two hours. Many are angry. One woman yells loudly at the two election workers seated behind a table. Then, she begins to cry.

"We acting like niggers," shouts a tall man to the increasingly agitated crowd. "We need to be black people trying to vote."

But they can’t vote. Not if they can’t wait. Not if they have a job to get back to.

 LEWIS AND CAMPBELL

LEWIS AND CAMPBELL

The former mayor does not come off well.

Soon, though, it appears help has arrived. Eighty-year-old Ward Seven Councilwoman Fannie Lewis steps out of an SUV and saunters inside. Her body is bent, but her face is ablaze and wise. She takes one look at the crowd and shakes her head.

"It’s like a man praying for rain who didn’t bring an umbrella," she says. Someone hands her a cell phone so she can call the Board of Elections or anyone who will listen to her pleas for help. There simply are not enough machines.

So begins the councilwoman’s attempt secure her citizens’ right to vote. For the next five hours, she begs for help over the phone. Sometimes, she speaks into two mobile phones at once. She skips a meeting with Jesse Jackson. She pulls people who have a job to the front of the line, and tells those who complain to shut up. She does everything she can to make sure everyone casts a ballot. Unfortunately, she’s very much alone.

 A JUSTIFIABLY PISSED-OFF VOTER

A JUSTIFIABLY PISSED-OFF VOTER

Deliveries of additional voting machines took hours.

Minor politicians drop by, promising “help is on the way.” But no help comes. Election officials claim more machines are coming in 15 minutes. It takes hours. Reporters stop in for sound bites. But none sees the situation unfolding around them. And then Jane Campbell stops by.

Campbell’s actions inside the precinct are unforgivable. Without giving anything away, this film will haunt the rest of her career.

Fannie Lewis does her best to save the day, but bureaucracy (and possible Republican maneuvering) win out. For her efforts, though, she deserves to be canonized.

And Paglin deserves a blank check for whatever she decides to direct next.