By Lynn Venhaus

America, we have a problem. It should be a given – one voice, one vote – but it’s not, as this film illustrates. Timely and powerful, “All In: The Fight for Democracy” should be required viewing for all citizens. When our country began, only 6% of the public could vote, and that included the rich, white landowners – not women or minorities. Voter suppression only isn’t in our nation’s history – it’s in our present. Cut to modern day politics, where it is a very real threat to democracy.

This documentary examines voter suppression in both the past and present U.S. and gives us an insider’s look into laws and barriers to voting. There are real threats to the basic rights of U.S. citizens to vote, and with a Presidential Election looming, the film highlights what needs to be done so everyone has their voice heard.

Impassioned filmmakers Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus interweave personal experiences with current activism and historical insight. Garbus was Oscar-nominated for two documentaries, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” (for which she won an Emmy) and “The Farm: Angola, USA.” She directed two episodes and produced the HBO mini-series “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” Cortes won an Emmy last year for the documentary “The Apollo.”

Stacey Abrams

Front and center is Stacey Abrams, the former Minority Leader of the George House of Representatives, whose loss in the gubernatorial race is still suspect. Abrams was the first black woman to become a major party’s nominee in the U.S.

After losing in an unfair fight to the Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Abrams has turned her focus on exposing corruption and creating awareness. She is the founder of Fair Fight Action, a national organization battling voter suppression. She encourages you to get involved and make sure elections are fair.

Most importantly, the film shows how people can fight for the right to vote and lets you know about the tools needed to protect this right.

Janelle Monae has written a song for the film called “Turntables.” Here is the link to the music video: https://youtu.be/8CFrCk6_0rM

The film is a call to action – it will make you want to do something. And that’s a good thing. We should all take part in our democracy, because as we have learned – it is precious.

The film is also part of an ambitious and visionary action plan to reach voters and educate them across this nation that Amazon is supporting, and so are the filmmakers.

#ALLINFORVOTING is a social impact campaign with community-based organizations, non-profits, corporations, artists, activists and influencers. It is being launched ahead of National Voter Registration Day – Sept. 22 – and in coordination with the film release.

The non-partisan campaign will develop a groundswell of digital content to combat misinformation about the voting process, and launch targeted campaign programming to educate and register first-time voters, mobilize communities to have their voices and values counted in the November election (and beyond), and train citizens to know how to recognize and report voter suppression.

There will be on online digital action hub featuring resources and tools for visitors to register to vote, check registration status, get election reminders, find their polling place, access state by state election information, see what’s on my ballot, request an absentee ballot and learn how to recognize and report voter suppression.

The documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy” is directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes. Rated: PG-13 for some disturbing violent images, thematic material and strong language – all involving racism, the run time is 1 hour, 42 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A
In Theatres Sept. 9 and streaming on Amazon Prime Sept. 18
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By Lynn Venhaus

It is rare to find a low-budget independent film that is so assured, so confident in its fluid camera movements and spot-on production elements that it makes you believe in the thrilling possibility of movies. “The Vast of Night” is the most pleasant of surprises – a thoroughly satisfying genre film that gets many things right for 89 captivating minutes.

One fateful night in a sleepy town in New Mexico, a naive switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) and cocky radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) begin to suspect some supernatural goings-on that may alter their future. Could it be a UFO? Commies? After all, it is the 1950s. They set out on a mission of discovery as some sort of invasion seems imminent.

In a brilliant film debut, director Andrew Patterson – whose day job included promotional video for the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team – breaks through as a fresh, imaginative talent. It is not so much the plot, which is a standard UFO science fiction tale, but it is the way he builds an eerie tone and intriguing rhythms in this old-fashioned, well-worn story.

The first sign that we are in for a fun ride is framing it as an episode of “Paradox Theatre,” a Twilight Zone knockoff in glorious black-and-white, ‘50s-style. I can imagine sitting in my grandparents’ living room watching this on “Chiller Thriller” or at the drive-in.

Set in fictional Cayuga, N.M., in 1957, most townsfolk are packed inside the local high school gym for a big game with cross-valley rivals. ‘Big fish in a little pond’ DJ Everett “The Maverick” Sloane is setting up the reel-to-reel tape for recording the action and fast-talking with everyone, including 16-year-old Fay Crocker. Both techie nerds, they share a fascination with the future and what may be in store for mankind.

She must work her part-time job as a switchboard operator, so they walk to the town’s communication center, talking in an engaging style, reminiscent of Richard Linklater films. The tracking shot is a dazzling feat while snappy repartee ensues beneath the glow of streetlights.

Patterson’s slowly builds the suspense, aided by M.I. Littin Menz’s striking cinematography. Is this an instance where “good people go bad and smart people go mad,” Everett wonders.

With intelligence and wit, screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger have crafted interesting blocks of dialogue, establishing the characters’ personalities right away. The set-up is almost Altman-esque, the way everyone chatters about a squirrel biting through an electric chord that has wreaked havoc.

What kind of storm is brewing? The phones seem on the fritz with weird noises. People are reporting seeing “something in the sky.” That turns Everett and Fay into super-sleuths. They are determined to crack the mystery, and with the help of two call-in listeners to the radio station, they are certain an invasion of some sort is afoot.

By setting it in the 1950s, when everyone was nervous about the Russians and the Cold War, let alone post-atomic paranoia, that factors into an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The X-Files” vibe as well as a “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” feel.

The main duo, Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz convey a wholesome earnestness that is refreshing.

Bruce Davis, as an ex-military man describing secret government operations, is hypnotic during a fade-to-black monologue. So is an elderly shut-in, harboring a dark secret. Gail Cronauer imbues Mabel Blanche with a palpable sadness, as she is convinced that aliens abducted her child years ago but always dismissed if she brings it up. Those segments are reminiscent of old-timey radio plays.

After its Toronto international Film Festival debut last November, “The Vast of Night” was a runner-up to the people’s choice award. At Slamdance in 2019, it won the audience award for best narrative feature. The screenwriters were nominated for best first feature screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards earlier this year.

With its critical raves and crowd-pleasing awards, “The Vast of Night” is now ready to be seen by the public.

“The Vast of Night,” directed by Andrew Patterson; starring Jake Horowitz, Sierra McCormick, Bruce Davis, Gail Cronauer.
Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language. Run time: 89 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A
Available on Amazon Prime May 29

This review ran in the Webster-Kirkwood Times .