Mora Stephens' Conventioneers details the relationship between two people on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Taking place during the course of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, a republican man meets back up with a Liberal woman he knew in college. The two begin to fall in love, even though they each have trouble reconciling this new personal passion with their political passion. The tension each feels is exacerbated when a friend of the young woman reveals that he is going to be in apposition to disrupt the President's speech at the convention. The film was shot on location during the actual 2004 Republican Convention, leading to the arrest of some of the filmmakers when they ended up capturing some of their footage without permission.
Genre: Comedy , Drama
Directed By: Mora Stephens
Written By: Mora Stephens , Joel Viertel
In Theaters: Apr 25, 2005 wide
On DVD: Jun 19, 2007
Runtime: 95 minutes
Studio: Cinema Libre
May 30, 2006 Interview with Joel Viertel, Producer of CONVENTIONEERS
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Was there a specific inspiration for the film? The press kit mentions that it is "Romeo & Juliet-esque." Was the director influenced by any films or books? Did the film evolve in significant ways from the initial concept to the finished film?
JOEL VIERTEL: The idea for CONVENTIONEERS came up when Mora Stephens, who directed the film, was in Manhattan having drinks with an NYU classmate of hers named Adam Feinstein. Mora and I (we're married) were in the process of putting together a 24p-miniDV production company called Hyphenate Films, and Adam suggested that we should shoot something against the backdrop of the impending Republican National Convention, in the vein of Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool. Mora and I had never seen Medium Cool but we thought the idea was fantastic, and I had been a huge fan of HBO's K Street. We had also been actively involved in the presidential campaign for about a year at that point, so we were fairly familiar with what grass-roots political activism looks like. We watched Medium Cool for reference, and I showed Mora K Street as well. In general, Steven Soderbergh's style was a big influence.
Mora came up with the central story-line idea, and we wrote a treatment together as fast as possible, as the convention was only a few weeks away. We brought the treatment to the actors we'd had in mind, got them on board, developed the treatment with them through rehearsals, and shot the film using whatever resources we could throw together in such short time. I'd say one of the more surprising outcomes, looking back, is how closely the finished film resembles the initial treatment. It really didn't change that much.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: The blending of actual ongoing events into the film must be challenging on a number of different levels.
JOEL VIERTEL: It was, but it was also kind of fun, actually. There's an electricity to shooting in real events that sometimes shows up in the finished product, and you can feel it while you're there. Staged political events in Hollywood movies almost always look absurd to me.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: For example, did you have some scenes planned that you weren't able to make happen when you actually saw the state of affairs on the ground (for ex. security or...)?
JOEL VIERTEL: We built the story-line to be flexible, in case things came up we hadn't anticipated, but we were very careful not to rely on anything spectacular happening on the ground. If protests were scheduled, we assumed they'd happen without exploding into mass violence or anything. We assumed the convention itself would go off pretty much as planned. So we tried to be prepared in case things came up, but not expect them to.
In terms of things not matching what we'd had in mind or security issues, I'd say we got very lucky. There were a couple of events we went to that weren't all that exciting, but those were the exceptions. Pretty much every time we put our actors in the midst of real events, it worked out quite well. Also, we'd gotten involved with some of the organizing groups in the weeks leading up to the convention, so we knew about almost all of the events that were being planned, and we had a pretty good sense of what would be interesting to put in a film and what wouldn't be.
Also, there were so many cameras in New York during the convention that security pretty much ignored them. I don't think most people even realized we were making a narrative and not a documentary.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Or alternatively, did important new story elements arise?
JOEL VIERTEL: Surprisingly, no. The finished film is very close to the original outline.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Did you go through the process of obtaining actual credentials to cover the convention so you could move around and shoot inside?
JOEL VIERTEL: No. I should mention that I wasn't there, nor was Mora. We worked it out in other ways, mainly by contacting people who did have credentials and having them get the shots we needed.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: A clarifying question: When you say you and Mora weren't there, you mean you weren't in the Convention Hall, but were out on the streets doing that part of things?
JOEL VIERTEL: We were outside filming during the protests, yes, but that was all over by the time Bush gave his speech. The only time we filmed inside Madison Square Garden was on Thursday, September 2nd, which was the last night of the convention when Bush was there. At that point, there was really nothing going on on the streets outside that I know of, plus it was like 11pm anyway so if we'd filmed it it wouldn't have looked like much. In the film, we mixed up the timeline to make it look like there's a protest going on outside while Bush is talking, but needless to say that's not what happened at all. Strangely, there's another film that shot during the convention called The F Word that mixed up the timeline in almost exactly the same way.
By the time Bush hit the stage, I was on a couch uptown, recovering from two days in jail. We watched the speech on television like everyone else, and had footage of it delivered to us later.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: What was the most difficult part of producing this film as compared to the other work you've done?
JOEL VIERTEL: Post-production. We shot on a lot of formats, and getting them all into a computer in workable order was incredibly complicated. I won't bore you with the details, but try to imagine editing a film when you've shot footage on 8mm, 16mm, 35mm and Imax. This would be kind of like the digital equivalent of that.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Are there any amusing anecdotes you can relate about the production of this film?
JOEL VIERTEL: Well, there was that time we all got arrested during the NYPD sweep arrests and I spent 40 hours in jail along with 1800 other people, but I'm not sure that qualifies as "amusing". There were lots of stories -- we filmed during the massive UFPJ march the day before the convention, where we had actors playing out scenes in the middle of hundreds of thousands of protesters. We also had actors and cameras into the convention itself, of course. But I think the most interesting part was where life and art crossed paths -- a lot of the people in the film are playing themselves, or variations of themselves, because we didn't want to put words in people's mouths too much, politically speaking. In the film, there's a protest group called 1000 Coffins, and the people you see there are a mixture of actors and activists, including one actor who ended up joining the group after we wrapped and working with them for a year. Very few people in the film are playing something other than their actual political beliefs. I've worked on a lot of films in one way or another, and very rarely do the filmmakers and the subject matter intertwine quite that way.
DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Wasn't there a class action suit about all those arrests; did they ever pay you anything or issue an apology?
JOEL VIERTEL: Yes. So far I've received like $250, though there's more suits pending. No apology that I'm aware of.
TomatoMeter Critics 75% / Audience 57%
November 8, 2006
Frank Scheck / Hollywood Reporter / Top Critic
Despite its contrived, predictable elements, the novelty of the setting and ingenuity of the filmmakers give the work a genuine immediacy.
October 19, 2006
John Anderson / Newsday / Top Critic
They may stand in for two halves of a country split by irreconcilable political differences. But as a couple they make not one lick of sense, regardless of how desperate each is.
November 30, 2010
*** ½ Walter M. Super / Harlequin68 Super Reviewer
In "Conventioneers," David Massey(Matthew Mabe) is visiting New York City for the first time for a convention. It is 2004 and he is a delegate to the Republican National Convention. While in town, he looks up Lea(Woodwyn Koons), an old friend from Dartmouth. Despite her being busy with the protests, much to the consternation of her Vietnam veteran father(Robert O'Gorman) who wishes she would finally finish her architecture degree, she meets David for lunch but does not finish due to philosophical differences. Later, she goes to his hotel to apologize and they go to his room to raid his snack bar. "Conventioneers" is a fine example of guerilla filmmaking, shot on the streets during the protests. It is not "Medium Cool" but then what is? Actually, "Conventioneers" shows me very clearly what I missed. For the record, I did not see much point in attending the protests at the time because I thought they would be kept out of mind and sight(The Democrats are just as guilty in trying to control the message) and I was afraid I would be risking arrest just by participating.(So, I read Michael Moore's dispatches in USA Today from the safe distance of Denver.) In retrospect, the film gave good reasons why my fears were not that ungrounded, as the end credits testify to crew members being detained during various events. That reinforces the film's major theme of being at a crossroads for not only the country but also the various characters, especially Lea's friend Dylan(Alek Friedman) who is now married and a father and now must be concerned with the consequences of his actions. This is in an America divided, not united, by George W. Bush. Of course, there are people who do not need an excuse, like politics, to argue.
September 5, 2011
** ½ Mike C
This could have been a pretty good movie. The idea is novel and contemporary: a modern day Romeo and Juliet where the conflict is not the last name but a political party affiliation. Well, so much for that. It's billed as just that but that's about 1/4 of what the movie is...a half documentary of the protests surrounding the RNC in NYC in 2004.
I thought the love story would be way better. Instead, both man and woman are already in committed relationships. It could have been great to have to young idealists fall in love. Their friends and families try to sway their decision based on politics. The movie is right in one regard: the Republican leaves his sanctuary in Texas and his mind is changed some when he sees NYC. What better theme than that: your little world is not always the greater world at large. More often, it is not. So leave the bigger world alone. They probably get along fine without you. In this movie, the love story is convoluted by the other relationships. And the slant of the direction, which seems to be pretty liberal (given some of the unsavory characteristics of the Republican dude). So along the lines of story, I thought it was okay but didn't fit the bill and definitely could have been better.
A more important question is why the fuck were all the camera men arrested? In the credits, it mentions that pretty much every camera man was arrested while filming protestors at Ground Zero. Uh, lame? This is the equivalent of people being denied rights at Yankees games for not following certain behaviors while they sing God Bless America. Pretty ridiculous.
Finally, would I ever date a Republican? She'd have be be something else. Typically, I am quite attracted to liberal chicks. I find it sexy as hell. And I just don't find Republicans to be all that intellectual. James Carville is an alien...that's why he had to settle for Mary Mattelin...whom I cannot stand and is someone who strikes me as very stoopid. I never rule out anything...that's part of being my brand of liberal, but on the surface, the odds are against me liking a Republican. At the same time, I don't think we'd have to go to protests and whatnot. An occasional debate over dinner maybe, but I don't like that the characters in this movie often came unhinged. That's not my brand of liberalism either.