Before the 2004 election, Laura Paglin had no intention of filming an emotional political documentary. She certainly had no dreams of screening one at the Sundance Film Festival or as part of the documentary shorts program at Chicago's Midwest Independent Film Festival.
On that rainy Tuesday morning in 2004, she picked up her digital camera and drove into Cleveland, "just in case." Paglin wanted to be there, "If a solar eclipse happened or an alien landing," she says, "if something happened in Cleveland where nothing ever happens."
What she found in Cleveland's Huff neighborhood surprised her and has astonished audiences around the country. Paglin went to the neighborhood's library and found that the polling place had been split into two precincts. One precinct was for people who lived on one street; the other was for the rest of the neighborhood.
Each precinct had the same number of voting machines. So while some poll workers sat about with nothing to do, just steps away other workers moved frantically to cope with a line of voters that was better than three hours long.
Her 25-minute film, "No Umbrella," chronicles the residents' hours of exasperation and perseverance and follows Cleveland City Councilwoman Fannie Lewis as she struggles to rectify the worsening situation.
Paglin covered the election in a way that the mainstream media simply could not. "There were lots of journalists there," she says. "They rushed in with their vans and microphones and announced their presence. They wanted to just reach in and grab the story. Then they raced off to other precincts."
In comparison, Paglin stayed long enough for the story to develop. "I just became a fly on the wall," she recalled. "I stayed so long that people just got use to me being there."
"No Umbrella" is not a polemic piece and Paglin doesn’t weigh it down with a political agenda. "I'm not a political analyst," she says. "I'm just an observer. I'd rather just show people what happens and have them come to their own conclusions." On the other hand, she says the situation "obviously wasn't an anomaly."
According to a study by Case Western Reserve University, over 10,000 properly registered Ohio voters had their ballots discounted because they'd been sent to vote in the wrong line. And countless thousands more were illegally denied provisional ballots for the same reason.
Said Paglin, "Before the election day, I thought, 'What's the big deal with disenfranchisement? How, with all the laws we have in place, can people block voting?' But then I saw the little things add up, the phone calls that weren't answered, the decisions that took a long time coming where the delay was the whole point."
You can watch the little things add up on a rainy day in Cleveland in Paglin's "No Umbrella," which will show during the Midwest Independent Film Festival at Chicago's Landmark Century Cinema on August 1. Paglin will be present at the screening.
“Range,” an experimental documentary by Wisconsin native Bill Basquin, will also screen at the August 1 event. It, too, played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The documentary shorts program will be preceded by a hands-on demonstration of Zacuto’s HVX200 studio camera package.