Slay the Dragon (2020)
Directed by Chris Durrance and Barak Goodman
Fill out your census, people! If you’re not inspired to do that, let “Slay the Dragon” be your motivation. The documentary, available for rental now (support your local independent movie theaters!), follows two separate efforts to eliminate the practice of partisan gerrymandering (in which one party—lately, the Republicans, who have seized control of so many statehouses it’s depressing—redraw district maps to ensure themselves victories in the future). One tries to use the ballot box to kill gerrymandering…the other, the courts.
“Slay the Dragon” is a census movie, because the census is the cause to gerrymandering’s effects. But also, if politicians can use census data to pick and choose which citizens they feel would be most likely to vote for their party, maybe that isn’t such a good thing. The census isn’t the cure to gerrymandering’s sickness, I guess. But thankfully, there have been efforts to take away politicians’ ability to pick voters (instead of the other way around). This documentary highlights those. But the film is also not as much about the practice of gerrymandering as I had expected. Instead, in order to heighten your emotions and get you to care, “Slay the Dragon” drags out all the despicable effects of gerrymandering, from the Flint water crisis to Wisconsin…just, the whole damned state government of Wisconsin. If you’ve seen “Citizen Koch,” you already know what happened when Scott Walker was elected governor alongside a largely Republican statehouse in 2010 (its new Democratic governor can’t get anything done because its statehouse is still so red). If “Citizen Koch” was a disgusting drink (and believe me, it’s much more difficult to swallow than any booze I’ve tried), consider “Slay the Dragon” its chaser—a bit sweeter and definitely more hopeful.
I could find nothing wrong with the doc’s production. Archival video and interviews with experts make up the bulk of the content, and a Mr. Rogers-esque musical score by Gary Lionelli is unlike any I’ve heard this year. But “Slay the Dragon” is about function over form. Ultimately, it should be treated as a classroom lesson—as long as you retain the information, it doesn’t really matter how it’s given to you.