Anytown, USA (2005) Poster


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Politics in a Petrie Dish
104350-12028 January 2006
Anytown U.S.A. (by Alan Campbell for the JEDSEY JOURNAL 06-I)

Yes the candidate's a dodger, yes a well known dodger, - Yes the candidate's a dodger, yes and I'm a dodger too.

He'll meet you and treat you and ask you for your vote, - But look out boys he's a dodgin' for a note,

Yes we're all dodgin', a dodgin', dodgin', dodgin', - Yes we're all dodgin' out away through the world.

(A song popular with western farmers after the Civil War)

There's that tale about Hollywood and politics where the movie mogul Jack Warner first hears that one of his old studio actors is running for governor. "No, no, not Ron Reagan for governor. Jimmy Stewart for governor. Ronald Reagan for best friend." That's not only about the typecasting of actors, but about the way Hollywood has caused people to look at reality through the camera lens. The actual candidates for high office don't measure up to the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Robert Redford or John Travolta but they work hard to come as close to the ideal as a talented, good-looking dodger can, and hope the public will give them the nod in spite of their shortcomings.

"Anytown U.S.A." is a documentary about small-town politics and doesn't cast any actors, so it can't match the Hollywood standard as it takes you through the 2003 campaign for the Mayor of Bogota, NJ. But as you watch the three candidates on camera, you might ask yourself whether even great movie stars with big money behind the show could give the same sense of realism. There's something very real about real people. Could any ensemble of actors produce something this real?

And there are things real life dares to do that Hollywood wouldn't. Would the pros approve a script where the three candidates share four serious health problems, (blindness being the mildest condition)? Would you kill off a candidate soon after he gives his all? Is it too corny for the school football team to have a great year after a bad start?

When the leaves start turning color and falling, it's the season for the people to choose the leaders who will serve them. There's a natural drama to the story, but without the editing it wouldn't come out at you. You can imagine that the crew had quite a bit of fun shooting the campaign, but the really heavy work and artistic skill was in cutting down a vast amount of footage to tell the story briskly. It's a good story, a real story, and the way it's told (without contrivances or hoked up crises) it might even go some way to reinforce your faith in democracy.
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Think Spike Lee or Kevin Smith following a group of candidates for mayor around for three months.
sydneybythesea18 December 2005
I laughed, I cried. This film lacks state-of-the-art technical values but doesn't need them. It reminded me of an early Spike Lee or Kevin Smith work - the first few minutes seem like an unpolished video, and without any apparent transition you are drawn in to an incredibly compelling story. Kristian Fraga shows the dirt of a local political campaign without taking sides and carries the suspense right to the end. Can a write-in candidate compete with the two major parties? With a popular incumbent running for re-election? How about if he gets the brains behind Jesse Ventura's successful bid as an independent? Will that work? Tip O'Neill said "All politics is local" but seeing this play-by-play rerun of a local mayoral election proves just how right he was. Go see it while you can - it won't be in theaters long.
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A riveting look at small town politics
dcavalier-123 July 2005
This is a remarkable documentary. Think of a mix between "The War Room" and "Roger & Me." The characters we meet are so extraordinary that it would be hard to make them up. We are used to seeing statewide and national hardball politics, but at the municipal level all the slickness and professionalism is gone and rank self-interest rules.

The film is well directed and the pace of the story keeps moving you along.

Underneath the gritty story of local politics, there is a heartbreaking story that gives the film an emotional impact far beyond the purely political. Absolutely worth finding this film and seeing it. Go find it!
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the documentary sleeper of the year...and it hits personal ground for me
Quinoa198425 December 2005
I wouldn't rank Anytown USA with the all-time great documentaries, but I know not only will I watch this again when it comes out on DVD, I'll likely buy it. For myself, going slightly past the film criticism for a moment, there is initial interest right off the bat with the location of the film. Bogota, New Jersey, is literally the town next over to mine (they even say Teaneck a couple of times in the film; the high school in their town is literally what makes my street a Dead-End), and while I have walked or driven through it countless times, I really only had a vague idea of who the people in the town were before the film. I have no friends from the town, and my only real conception of them (this is before the film) is that the cops love to give out tickets (in such a small town, what can you do with your spare time). Seeing the film, and seeing the townsfolk and those running for its Mayoral office (aka the 'Bogotian's', a name I laughed at when I first heard), I get a whole other picture.

Once getting over the initial feeling of 'ah, places I know up on the screen, and directed by a local no less', settling into the film is no trouble. The filmmakers have here crafted a work a little in the tradition of Michael Moore- totally for the entertainment value, very funny a lot of times, some heart put in for good measure- though this time the politics of the main subjects are kept a little vague at times (though if you know who Steve Lonegan is outside of what's shown here you'll know what to expect). The film is sort of divided up among its three subjects- the Republican incumbent (Lonegan), the democratic hopeful (Fred Pesce), and the wild-card, who (like Lonegan oddly enough) is legally blind, Dave Musikant. We see how they're campaigns take off, how the cards are stacked against the under-dogs, but how they fight back by way of the people.

The Bogotians (also the name of the town newsletter, often with propaganda by Lonegan's campaign people) get to know the candidates they don't, and of course have initial frustration with the incumbent. There's some nasty humor from Lonegan's side, some aloof-ness by way of the pleasant but poorly navigated Pesce, and as a main component to the film, the quirky, bittersweet saga of Musikant as a write-in candidate with the odds very much against him. But that the film shows all three's trials and tribulations in the couple of months up to the election with such a variety and timing is rather remarkable. It's a little too slick for its own good at times, yet the people are the ones that come through, either by way of cheering them on, laughing at them (or with them even), and soaking up the small-town pathos (and believe you-me, Bogota is a small town).

I do recommend the film to people who may have never even been to the east coast much less New Jersey or Bogota, because the filmmaker(s) are smart in not showing too much (oddly enough I never quite figured out what Musikant's politics were, except against Lonegan's stalwart incompetence and Pesce's shortcomings). And at the same time, in some ways, the film is even more of a comedy (perhaps unintentionally, or not) than a serious look at an election cycle coming to a climax. For one who has been alongside the Bogotians all his life, this film holds even more resonance, and taken aside from that perspective, it's still quite a little nifty look at the slings and arrows of local NJ power. As it seems though, many may have to wait for DVD, if at all, as it only got the most limited release in New Jersey (oddly enough at the Teaneck movie theater, where Bogota residents could walk half a mile to see it)
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Of the people, for the people, by the people?
pablocarlos3 December 2006
You couldn't cast this film with actors and capture the true banality and raw pathos of small town politics as this documentary does. The director here does an excellent job of storytelling in recording the efforts of a rank outsider who runs on little other than chutzpah and sheer enthusiasm against an apparently justifiably despised incumbent mayor. The twists and turns of the campaign mirror the improbable feats of the local high school football team who go on their own miraculous underdog run. But the film's true value lies in its ability to show the nastiness that politics brings out in people and democracy's capacity for excitement and frustration. An excellent story, told in an unadorned fashion, well worth a look.
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Great work
phil-j18 April 2006
This is a great little film. Should win even more awards.I'm not sure if I have ever seen a film that delivers just what it promises, but this doc may be close. The film has humor, pathos, tragedy and suspense. What more could you ask? I'm not a film-maker, but the art of a film such as this must be in the editing and photography, the production skills. With no script,and the "actors" not taking direction, the story has to be carved out of single block of granite. If you miss a shot, a scene that changes or adds to the story, you have no way to get it back. You get whatever you get and there ain't no more.I found myself beginning to take sides in this political war and angry at some of the characters. I really didn't expect to be this engrossed. I'm an author (Nam-A-Rama) and I can't quite imagine being given the scenes, the characters, and the words and told to 'make a good story out of this.' I hope these guys go on to make more and bigger films.
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American politics in a microcosm
GethinVanH5 November 2009
Anytown, USA is a documentary about a small town election which is American politics in a microcosm. The candidates are creepy neo-conservative mayor who wants to cut services including the local high school, the boring middle of the road Democrat who doesn't even seem to try and the blind cancer survivor running as a third candidate. There's some dirty tricks including the Republicans publishing a "newspaper" which is pretty much the small town equivalent of FOX News. There's some other dirty tricks on the other side, including rumours about the Democratic candidate's failing health.

All in all, it's a pretty good light documentary. Not really a documentary about an issue but more about people and the chaotic, delinquent American political system which continues to fail people.
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All Politics Really IS Local!
justinjrivera8119 February 2007
I grew up in the small town of Guttenberg, New Jersey and became involved in local politics at a young age and after seeing this film it brought back so many memories! Anytown, USA is a captivating documentary that goes in depth to show just how ruthless small town politics can be. The film goes on the campaign trail with all three candidates for mayor. Legally blind Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan(whom I would've supported) was the tough as nails, take no prisoners incumbent who faced opposition from a Democratic challenger in Fred Pesce who clearly had other things on his mind besides the race and a wild card write-in candidate and former star high school athlete, David Musikant who was also legally blind and had enlisted the services of former Jesse Ventura Campaign Manager, Doug Friedline.(Both Musikant and Friedline have passed away since the making of this film.) Perhaps the most interesting side note of this film is how each legally blind candidate views their disability. Lonegan resents and even mocks at times what he perceives to be Musikant's attempt to use his disability to win votes while Lonegan gives a brief synopsis of his failing eyesight while making it clear that he doesn't use it as a crutch. Another interesting moment takes place when Musikant starts spreading rumors about Democratic Challenger Fred Pesce's candidacy after receiving a speculator's claim from someone who claimed to be one of Pesce's people and in turn, unleashes the wrath of a furious Mrs. Pesce. You feel for Pesce in this film because you know that something isn't right with him and it becomes more and more evident as the film progresses and you don't see him knocking on doors with his running mate, Joe Noto.(Who is now a Bogota Councilman.) All of this takes place while some residents are outraged over Lonegan's desire to eliminate the town's only high school in order to cut spending. As a result, Lonegan amasses a resistance who is determined to come up against him for the sole purpose of wanting to see him lose and it becomes quite comical at times.

Roll all of these intangibles into one and you have yourself one slobber-knocker of a film! Kristian Fraga and Juan Dominguez do a spectacular job of documenting the inner workings of small town politics. Another young talent by the name of Amanda Rosa who assisted in the editing of this film and currently heads her own fledgling production company, Directs for Food Productions, did a phenomenal job as well and I sincerely believe that she has a bright future ahead of her as a director.

To cut a long story short, buy this film. It is now out on DVD and you'll love every minute of it!
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It was very interesting to see the nuts and bolts of an actual campaign operation clearly explained.
Uberhippy15 January 2006
The film was great! It was very interesting to see the nuts and bolts of an actual campaign operation clearly explained. I've worked on a number of local campaigns in Jersey City, New Jersey (not far from where the film's story took place) and on a gubernatorial campaign (both the primary and the general election). This was the first time I saw a realistic film treatment of an election.

The technique of images in a news story becoming animated was really great. It was as if I was stepping into the story.

Towards the bottom of this Page:

see the video of see New Jersey Political Scientist David Rebovich's comments on Lonegan.
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A microcosm of what is often wrong about politics
MartinHafer4 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is an odd little film that follows a rather small-time election in New Jersey. Considering that Bogota, NJ is so tiny, the fact that this documentary was made is unusual to say the least. However, even though there are only about 4000-5000 residents, what happens in the election is in many ways a microcosm of larger elections. The same muckraking, half-truths and dirty tricks you might see in a presidential or senatorial race are definitely here--and probably more so!

Bogota has a budget problem and the people seemed very angry that sports were going to be cut from the high school's budget or that some were considering consolidating their tiny school district with another. While I felt that many who were angry about this were unreasonable (after all, they wanted lower taxes and more services), the incumbent mayor's demeanor was incredibly insulting. In short, he came off as a real jerk. As for the opposition, the Democratic candidate had practically no charisma, charm or apparent leadership ability. So, not surprisingly, a third party write-in candidate appeared on the scene and the election got very, very ugly.

In addition to all the hysteria and electioneering, another interesting aspect of the film is that two of the three candidates were legally blind (one due to a tumor the other to retinitus pigmentosa--a degenerative condition). In a darkly funny portion of the film, the blind incumbent complained that the other blind guy wasn't really THAT blind and was milking it for sympathy!! Considering that the tumor guy soon died after the election makes this argument all the more dark and horrible!! The bottom line is that this was a savagely dark civics lesson and was interesting despite the small scale. However, the film occasionally is rather crude (the language of two of the candidates was rather salty to say the least) and the technical aspects of the film were less than superb--though certainly not bad enough to make the film unwatchable or hard to enjoy.
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Like watching my neighbor on Jerry Springer
SeriousJest29 June 2014
This flick has the video quality of a 1990s health class film, and features a town that looks like it is the product of generations of inbreeding. At first, the residents' rally against the incumbent mayor is comical in a campy way, but then the documentary drags a little bit. Specifically, I started thinking of how depressing it would be to live in Bogota. About halfway through, however, one of the campaigns gets a game-changing injection, and so does the film. I grew up in New Jersey and currently live close to Bogota, so, all in all, this flick was worth watching for me because it's like one of your neighbors appearing on The Jerry Springer Show. Plus, it's got a real human aspect to it…both good and bad.

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Manipulative Documentary for Emotional Thinkers
The_Real_Review14 August 2013
A manipulative documentary that does everything it can to dishonestly frame Lonegan as a "bad guy" which he is not. While Democrats show there true colors by vandalizing Lonegan signs and Musikant by spreading rumors about his opponents. Only emotional thinkers will fall for the pity politics of Dave Musikant. While I am sure that Dave is a nice guy, being "nice" is not a plan to run a town. Musikant and Pesce have no message except that they are not Lonegan. While Lonegan's biggest crime is trying to reduce the property taxes of Bogota, NJ. Again, emotional thinkers cannot connect the dots between school funding and property taxes. To them these things are apparently funded by "magic" money. It is tragic that Dave lost his life to cancer but again an illness should never be a reason to vote for someone in politics which is the true lesson here. Lonegan has legitimate plans to reduce property taxes and streamline government, those who are intellectually honest and can get past there emotions would be wise to consider them.
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The blind leading the blind . . .
pixrox121 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
. . . as this documentary states this is the only election in U.S. history for an office as important as mayor of a city with at least 7,900 residents in which two or more candidates are legally blind. I can think of no way to cross-check this "fact;" even if true, would it be more significant than an election for county commissioner in a 9,300-population district in which all the contenders suffered from the heartbreak of psoriasis? The main antagonists in this story are the hopeful for the Democratic Party, and the Republican option. One of these men wants to disband the local high school (since the teachers dislike all the money he's lopped off the education budget), publishes a fake "newspaper" with misinformation about any town resident who disagrees with him, belittles all the townspeople behind their backs, and tries to find some governmental means of harming anyone who voices the tiniest bit of dissent to his rule of terror (saying flat out that occupants trapped in crumpled cars should be left to die if the alternative is for any of his business friends to be startled by the lights and siren of a passing ambulance). The other guy wants to fund the school, fix the roads, and pick up the trash. Do you know America well enough to guess which candidate belongs to which party?
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