Thursday, September 20, 2007

IFP: Frontrunners

Alexander Payne’s 1999 film Election squared frighteningly well with my experiences with high school student senate elections. As there will never be a shortage of ambitious kids, student government elections will continue to supply drama of the big-fish-in-a-small-pond variety, as demonstrated in the IFP screened documentary, Frontrunners (trailer here).

Frontrunners chronicles a recent student union election at Stuyvesant, New York’s elite public high school for the gifted and talented. Evidently, Stuy turns the election intensity up to eleven, with primaries, student newspaper endorsements, and a televised debate.

It is pretty compelling to see the young leaders map out their campaigns, trying to find the right ethnic and gender balances for their tickets, testing campaign themes and putting together GOTV efforts. Most of the candidates are clearly talented, putting to shame the weak field of candidates my school had to offer (present blogger included).

Frontrunners also, perhaps unintentionally, answers the question of where biased journalists come from. WE see an editorial meeting of the school paper, in which staff start the meeting by bashing Fox News for being biases, and then proceeding to argue they need not cover any candidates they have not endorsed. They clearly have promising careers a head of them at the New York Times.

Frontrunners at least, fairly balances its coverage of the two candidates who survive the primary. It captures the building suspense of the grueling campaign, and concludes with an interesting hint of emotional ambiguity that has a touch of Redford in The Candidate (but be assured, neither of the two candidates lacked for ideas of what to do once in office). On screening it, I’m glad I was running in a school where I could get by on a smile and a hearty handshake.