Conventioneers (2005) Poster

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A film spliced directly to a piece of history.
BradBate31 October 2005
In one of the most imaginative pieces of film-making I have seen in years, Mora Mi-OK Stephens emerges as a writing and directing talent of brave and considerable potential, stretching the envelope of cinema verite style to bring rich new depth of meaning to the term believability.

In some respects, "Conventioneers" is a traditionally structured story of lust and love between polar opposites. What makes it different is that Stephens set it right in the middle of the 2004 Republican National Convention in Manhattan. Critical narrative scenes were staged in the flow of the actual anti-war, anti-Bush marches and demonstrations that surrounded Madison Square Garden. One whole sub-plot plays out on the floor of Convention, using an under-employed but solidly credible New York actor whose "day job" found him signing the President's acceptance speech for the deaf.

And, just as you are beginning to think this whole idea is just a clever gimmick, let me assure you that a fully-involving story unfolds with such immediacy that you would swear real people were being filmed by hidden cameras everywhere they went. The intimacy and truth is heightened by skillfully improvised dialogue by actors who have been thoroughly rehearsed by their young director. Stephens wrote the screenplay with her producer, Joel Viertel, who also takes a well deserved credit as editor. Stephens made the decision to shoot many of the dialogue scenes with multiple cameras to give herself and Viertel a wide variety of cutting options that are difficult to achieve with a traditional one-camera approach to an improvised scene. It is relatively easy to duplicate a performance of scripted dialogue when you move the camera to a new angle or focal length. It is almost impossible when the actors are ad libbing around a central idea.

Lea Jones (Woodwyn Koons) is a liberal Democrat who lives with her playwright fiancé in suburban New Haven, but is in the city as an organizer of protest activities surrounding the GOP convention. She loathes George W. Bush and everything he stands for, including the war in Iraq and conservative Republican ideologies. David Massey (Matthew Mabe) is a straight-laced, blazer-and-rep-tie-wearing Republican delegate from Texas. He spends a lot of time on the phone with his wife, but finds time to call his college chum Lea to let her know he is in town. When they get together for lunch, political sparks fly, as they discover that the gulf between his conservatism and her liberality will probably preclude a renewal of their friendship. But when they meet to share apologies, other sparks fly. Opposites do attract.

When she isn't meeting furtively with Massey, Lea is working to convince former classmate Dylan Murtaugh (Alek Friedman) to briefly set aside his new role as Daddy and Breadwinner and join her protest committee. Dylan is a sign-language interpreter with little time for anything but work and domestic duties. He hatches a plan to interpret the Bush speech for the hearing impaired, then stage a personal protest of the President's war policies. When you see actor/interpreter Friedman on the floor of the convention (and also playing the role of Alek), the daring reality of this film really hits home.

Koons brings a warmth, openness and vulnerability to her character who is passionate about her political beliefs, but worried about what to do when the campaign is over and she has to return to Connecticut and her somewhat dull betrothed. Mabe slides convincingly from a eager, somewhat righteous young conservative, to a confused, conflicted and eventually tormented guy trying to find a new life. They don't hand you an instruction manual when you remain celibate through college, then go home and marry your high school sweetheart. His closing scene will send you reeling.

In a sense, the concept of this film is so daring that I seriously doubt a more experienced writer/director would attempt it. Mora Mi-OK Stephens, who is not long out of the graduate film program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, was so young and so eager to make this movie that she didn't know it would be a logistical nightmare, a creative impossibility and a legal nightmare. She didn't know it couldn't be done, so she just went out and did it. I hope she will always view her career in those terms. If she does, she will make a lot of powerful films.
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Bittersweet Romance Amidst the 2004 NYC GOP Convention
noralee28 May 2005
"Conventioneers" was one of at least two films inspired by "Medium Cool" screened at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival and the only one to recall the central relationship in that film.

The context and setting at the 2004 Republican convention in New York City are as intrinsic to the film's story as Fred Zinnemann's "The Search" in post-war Germany or Louis Malle's pre-casino "Atlantic City." Debut director Mora Stephens makes marvelous use of the flexibility of digital cameras to pick up the details of that hot and somewhat bizarre week in August as aliens landed in the cacophony of committed Kerry Country (and yes, I remember it well). She and co-writer/husband Joel Viertel, with the help of appealing actors, graft a convincing romance on top of these events, at least until the last ten seconds which unfortunately destroy much of the story's credibility.

It is believable that two bright young twenty-somethings renew a college friendship in those intense days in the Big Apple, though now she's a literally engaged but somewhat flighty Democratic protester and he's a married and devoted Republican delegate.

There are countless films of the big city gal converted to home spun values by the love of a country boy, from "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" to "The Electric Horseman" to "Sweet Home Alabama" and on, but Matthew Mabe does a convincingly intelligent Jimmy Stewart who seriously questions his assumptions and beliefs, and seeks answers to the identity crisis he undergoes away from home by falling in love with his opposite (the actors in the Q & A after the film said they spent considerable time developing the characters' back stories through improvisation and it shows). He comes across as honest about himself and his feelings while the city sophisticate seems duplicitous and hypocritical, but maybe it is because we learn more about his other relationships than we do about hers.

There's a particularly thoughtful scene at a faith-based group-run food pantry where he discusses issues with an activist nun, one of the few political scenes where I wasn't restless to get back to the hot romance already. While his fellow Republicans repetitively talk about just staying on target with their message, the protesters have endless meetings about tactics and theatrics for their demonstrations, though the filming of the final staged rally is effective.

The chance involvement of a member of the cast on the convention floor adds significant suspense and realism to the film (even if his choices don't quite come across as purely as the director claimed in the Q & A for that character's motivations as he seems a bit hen-pecked).

If the closing monologue (which caused the audience to gasp) is meant to make a point about the current administration's compassionate conservatives, as the camera pans to the U.S. Capitol, then it is spitefully out of balance with the rest of the film as much as it is out of character for the speaker or it's a new take on the feminist adage that all politics is personal.

The Barenaked Ladies' song "Conventioneers" from the Maroon CD is used amusingly.
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What happens when Red State meets Blue State? I suppose you get Purple…
Alan30 April 2005
I saw this movie at the Tribeca Film Festival. The premise seems interesting. A male Republican delegate in NYC for the 2004 RNC Convention runs into an old female friend from college who is preparing for the protests against President Bush outside the Convention hall. He's married and she's engaged, and they wonder why they never became a couple. You can figure out what happens next. Over the next few days, they discover each other and explore their passions and their differences. The film does not have a standard Hollywood ending and it may offend some viewers. But I'm glad the film took a risk.

As for a criticism, many of the scenes between the two lead actors seemed forced and unnatural. Frankly, I didn't buy into their attraction to each other and the dialogue was choppy as was the editing. Nonetheless, the footage of the protests was fascinating. They filmed many of the scenes right there in the middle of the parades with thousands upon thousands of people surrounding them. In fact, the Director revealed that she along with several other crew members were arrested during one of the NYPD's "sweeps" of the protesters. All charges were dropped and the filmmakers are apparently seeking civil damages for false arrest.

The footage of the protests alone make the film worth seeing.
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Nice Try
hurstr28 October 2007
Interesting in its premise, Conventioneers quickly devolves into by-the-numbers characterization and shallow politics. The main story, concerning a Republican delegate (male) and a liberal activist (female) is set against the actual spectacle of the 2004 RNC in New York. The idea of staging fictions against real events is full of potential, though in this case it fails - mostly because the characters are simply uninteresting and can't sustain the story for 100 minutes. I'm told that the scenes were mostly improvised, and it shows. Their identities are hewn from 'left' and 'right' stereotypes, and leave no room for ambiguity. After the Republican and Democrat hook up about 40 minutes into the film, there's nothing left but for all of the characters to follow the forced march of the plot.

Visually the film has nothing to offer but talking heads; I often closed my eyes and listened to the movie and didn't miss a thing. The contrived and/or cringe-worthy moments come with increasing frequency as the movie progresses. Most galling was a musical montage in the middle of the movie - including a catchy beat, hotel room sex romps and a Ground Zero visit - yecch.

It's one thing to oppose GW and the neocons; but mantras spouted by the 'left' characters in this picture are every bit as dogmatic and closed-minded as the conservatives. It's an earnest but immature work.
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pretty good
bela_bombastic13 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Here are my thoughts:

1) Though the film's realism depends upon the protests of the Republican National Convention as a backdrop for the romance, I felt towards the end that maybe there was too much footage edited into the final cut. When David confronts Lea in the crowd, you can see several protesters looking at the camera, and it was funny, but it took away from the moment, I think.

2) I think Mabe is an exceptional actor, and it is hard for me to say this, but I actually liked his character, as a Republican, better than I did the Democrat, Lea. I felt that she was much more closed-minded than he was, and I wish Democrats could be portrayed in a better light once in a while. She comes across as flighty and unreliable. Maybe it's an honest portrayal, but I am getting kind of sick of the liberal girl makes the conservative guy think about things angle, if you know what I mean.

3)The ending: I kinda understand why David called Lea's phone and left the message, but I also didn't understand it. I would be angry if I was him too, but I don't think he would have gone that far. Seemed out of character, and the ending shot of the capitol building kinda annoyed me as it kinda compared David's resentment to Republican politics. I dunno. Seemed to end on a clichéd note.

I ultimately liked the film enough to write a bit about it, so I recommend it.
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An Eye Opener for the politically naive
petresti9629 April 2009
This unscripted movie filmed in the middle of protesters is leaving me surprised to say the least.The producer,operator and director had been arrested between 17-40 hours.

As a person not involved politically yet bummed by the "lack" of protests on the American political scene I had benefited from a believable lesson based on political backgrounds that actually happened in Summer of 2004 in the Big Apple(500 000 protesters).

So palpable and flexible in filming the protesting against Bush political stand,casualties and censorship.There are shots of the march of one thousand coffins (in which one of the actors took active part) and shots from a real soup kitcken/pantry played with collaboration of non actors.

So provocative and fresh, an eye opening experience.An introspection into media censorship that reminded me to search deeper for the raw news .We are also presented with a lesson on prejudice via two caracthers representing the liberal and conservative Texan points of view.With regard to romance we learn of two human beings who reconnect at different,conflicting levels ultimately.The movie is a gentle suggestion for citizens who choose to not vote and the openness of one's mind.When judgments are eliminated people can find common grounds no matter what the circumstances are.
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Bravo, a really good, intelligent love story.
sheryl796221 August 2007
Conventioneers is a very good first film for Mora Stephens.

The romance in the film really worked. I believed that these two people were in love and I liked the "Romeo and Juliet" complexity that their love put them in.

The two main actors were very good, especially Matthew Mabe. He's very attractive and I loved his portrayal of a Republican. The depth of character he gave Dave Massey with his polite manners and gentlemanly nature was very true to life. As was his traits of being willing to listen to others and reach out to them. Massey's optimism is incredibly attractive and you can see why the Democrat Lea Jones (Woodwyn Koons) is drawn to him.

The politics of the film is somewhat balanced, though the filmmakers are clearly left wing, which is evidenced in the quantity of footage of the protests that surrounded the RNC in New York. There are obsessive amounts of footage of Bush/Hitler, Bush is Evil, and Republicans are Stupid nauseam! The filmmakers seem to be in awe of the protesters and the political theater they create. Actually the film, perhaps unintentionally, shows just how little protesting accomplishes or matters in the scheme of things.

The telephone call at the end is startling and seems out of character for Massey. However, if the film is trying to say that Massey's character became hardened and cynical from his experiences with "the other side". If that was the film's intention, to make a statement about the breakdown and nastiness of political discourse in America and that this country needs more pre-relationship Massey's in the world, I applaud the film.
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