Still Steaming

A pair of filmmakers dredges up all the rage and frustration of Election 2000

Florida Fights Back suffers from some of the technical shortcomings you'd expect from neophyte filmmakers -- uneven audio and some jolting edits -- but it captures much of the outrage and absurdity of the times. It shows, among other things:

A group of protesters brandishing a petition with more than 1,000 signatures in the office of Rep. Robert Wexler in early January 2001 asking the congressman to formally protest the Florida electoral count during the upcoming certification by Congress. A clearly unnerved Wexler spokeswoman tells them that "he knows you're here" and that he'll be discussing the matter with Rep. Alcee Hastings "to see exactly what his position is."

A Republican in a dark-blue suit standing nose to nose with a demonstrator on a Fort Lauderdale street. The former shouts repeatedly, "We won!" The latter yells back, "You're a thief!"

Lights! Camera! Inaction! Filmmakers Bruce Yarock and Jeannine Ross searched in vain for a Democrat to spearhead an investigation of the 2000 election
Colby Katz
Lights! Camera! Inaction! Filmmakers Bruce Yarock and Jeannine Ross searched in vain for a Democrat to spearhead an investigation of the 2000 election

Demonstrators trying to confront Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at a May 2001 meeting of Catholic lawyers in Fort Lauderdale. Mitch Ceasar, chairman of the Broward Democratic Party, discreetly banishes some protesters from his group's side of the street because of the signs they carry calling Scalia a thief and traitor. "We would welcome anybody," he explains, "but not people with signs that are very inflammatory."

The filmmakers early on found protagonists for their narrative. Greg Palast, a BBC investigative reporter, discovered that Florida officials had erroneously purged thousands of registered voters from the rolls, almost all Democrats. "You have to understand that the investigation of the election in Florida was not conducted by the American press," Palast asserts from his Long Island office, where the filmmakers interviewed him for several hours.

Vincent Bugliosi, a former Los Angeles district attorney and author, decried the Supreme Court decision as criminal because it wasn't based on law. "If in fact the court's ruling was politically motivated -- which it unquestionably was -- this means that by definition it was not based on law," Bugliosi declares in the film. "And if it was not based on the law, that means that these five justices willingly and knowingly nullified the votes of 50 million Americans who voted for Al Gore and stole the election for George Bush."

The filmmakers also found a relentless gadfly in Bob Kunst, a Miami Beach activist who heads the Oral Majority, a Miami-based gay rights organization. The film follows Kunst and his 2002 Florida gubernatorial run, largely ignored by the media, whose primary platform was the initiation of a thorough investigation of the 2000 election.

Both filmmakers laugh when asked if Florida Fights Back has a hero. "Yeah, the people are the heroes in it," Ross says. "There are no political heroes. It really makes all politicians look bad. It's a nonpartisan film."

Gore was the biggest disappointment for them. Yarock says: "I was waiting for Gore to get up during his concession speech and say, 'Listen, I got to tell you people, it's not about me; it's about you. Your vote was stolen. Yes, Bush is going to be sitting in the White House, but he's a fraud, and I wouldn't stand for it.' That's what I would have liked to have seen instead of this weepy, phony, magnanimous thing."

"Through that whole year of protesting," Ross recalls, "everyone was trying to get Gore to speak up, to do something, to say something. He wouldn't talk to anyone, not even the press."

Florida Fights Back would have been done sooner were it not for the September 11 attacks. "We were in a state of shock," Yarock says. "My attitude changed somewhat too in terms of protecting our country. It didn't seem the right time to be attacking anybody in the government. That went on for quite a while." They also burned up months winnowing down 30-odd hours of digital footage for transfer to their computer and learning how to use editing software.

Given last month's rift between Deutsch and Penelas, however, Election 2000 seems far from dead -- at least as a political weapon. Ross and Yarock, in fact, believe that a Democratic hopeful can defeat Bush only if he makes the 2000 election a campaign issue. "That's the only way to beat him with his millions and millions of dollars," Ross says. "I'm still pushing for that. I'm hoping that [the film] will reach enough people to wake them up."

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