The 2008 American presidential election felt urgent and pivotal to so many around the world that I wanted to make a film capturing that strong and palpable sentiment. I imagined the film to be a historical document not of the event itself but of the mentalities surrounding it as for me these are the more intangible and sometimes most fleeting aspects of history. Years down the road will we remember what drove us to action in the autumn of 2008?
My research for the film began by attending Obama ‘meet-up’ groups in London where I found British men and women excited and inspired to get involved in the campaigning any way they were allowed. Through a grapevine I was told to meet Malcolm Clark and I knew then I had found my story.
When I met Malcolm he had just returned from the Democratic National Convention where he had ‘blogged’ with others from around the world in the ‘Big Tent’. He was passionate about Obama and about the idea of doing politics in a new way, in a way he felt was not fully put into practice yet in the UK. Against the backdrop of Afghanistan and Iraq it was surprising and refreshing that America was still a place others could turn to for inspiration.
But this wasn’t the first time Britons felt compelled to get directly involved in American politics. In 2004 The Guardian newspaper had urged its readers to post letters to America, persuading the residents of Clark County, Ohio to vote Democrat. But the letter-writing campaign really didn’t get off the ground. As soon as British letters started hitting Ohioan mailboxes the residents of Clark County protested by saying their country’s politics was nobody else’s business.
But Malcolm wasn’t put off and in late October 2008 our journey (and road trip) began. I followed Malcolm to Ohio on the eve of the election and then again to Washington, D.C. in January 2009 for Obama’s Inauguration, filming 20 hours of his journey.
By approaching this big historical event through Malcolm’s eyes, who didn’t even have the right to vote, I hoped to answer what it was about America, about Obama, and about politics that was so motivating.
Malcolm’s journey asked more questions than I first imagined – questions about campaigning, about global democracy and America’s place in it, and about the promise of social change and its power to mobilise.
A Dollar & A Dream shows how in a global community what goes on in America is felt not just by countries but by individuals around the world. What’s most interesting to me now is how the sentiment captured in this film will be perceived years after the election – do Americans have the same enthusiasm for politics? And is the world still watching as closely, as passionately and as optimistically as it was in 2008?
-Meghan Horvath, October 2010