February 19, 2007
As the 2008 presidential campaign draws closer, a new documentary encourages us to not forget the lessons of 2004. Swing State Ohio stands out from the glut of material on the 2004 election–and the decisive impact of Ohio’s electoral votes–because of it doesn’t have an ideological axe to grind. The film places viewers in the moment as the events of the election unfold, creating a unique, on-the-ground vitality.
Rather than recruiting talking heads to analyze the election after the fact, the filmmakers set up camp in Ohio beginning in September 2004, before it was clear that the state would be as pivotal. Without any press credentials, the four young producers–Jed Wolfington, Loren Larsen, Lauren Davison and Paul Davison–hit a campaign trail of their own, making connections, hustling for access and eventually scoring interviews with the likes of Sen. Ted Kennedy, the since-elected Sen. Sherrod Brown and Ken Blackwell, Ohio’s then secretary of state. However, the loudest voices in Swing State Ohio belong to the voters, who come to life in a colorful assortment of interviews held on farms and campuses, and in people’s homes.
WireTap’s Adam McKibbin caught up with Jed Wolfington (director/producer) and Loren Larsen (correspondent/producer) recently to discuss about objectivity, “wildcatting” and the importance of persistence.
WireTap: How did your vision for Swing State Ohio change between your initial concept for the film and the finished product?
Loren Larsen: We went into the process thinking we were just going to make a film about a swing state–as citizen journalists. I’m a political science major and I wanted to really see the process in action. When we started producing the film, it was on a very broad spectrum. [We were asking]: what makes a swing state swing? As we got a couple weeks in, we realized that [the presidential election] really was going to come down to Ohio, and we had to switch our focus to how the candidates were being perceived there.
WT: How did you decide how much of yourselves to put on screen, and how much of your personal politics to wear on your sleeve? For example, there’s one memorable shot of Loren recoiling after Kerry’s ill-fated comment about Cheney’s daughter during the debates.
Jed Wolfington (producer/director): In that particular scene, Loren’s reaction so perfectly represented the majority. I spoke to someone who saw the film at a showing in California, and–in his mind–that was the key moment in the election. We knew that the audience wasn’t necessarily interested in hearing [Loren’s and Lauren’s] views outright, but if they could infer their views based on things that they did, we felt that would be genuine.
WT: Were Ohioans tired of the spotlight?
LL: The people that we spoke to were definitely not. They were frustrated–and, by the end, they were nervous. We went there in late September, and you could feel the fervor everywhere you went. Everyone was tuned in, and people were eager to talk to us. By the end, they became more wary of the candidates and the system, but they were still eager to speak.