Where were you on 11/8/16?
The question feels equal parts daunting and demanding. In the intervening months since President Donald Trump was sworn into office, America has fractured into two groups: those with buyer's remorse, and those with just remorse.
It's difficult to contemplate Trump's presidency without replaying that fateful November night, where an outsized reality television star slowly started to gain momentum in Florida…then Pennsylvania…and then West Virginia, and Michigan, and so on. Grappling with the final results is something everyone's had to do, irrespective of political leanings—but that night lingers in the collective consciousness.
Producer Jeff Deutchman understood the importance of this day before we did. He's the creator of 11/8/16, the second installment in an election series where he calls upon a cavalcade of documentary talent to film around the country. This latest installment comes from "300 hours of footage," said Deutchman. "We had 50 characters and whittled it down to 16."
These characters come from across the country, shot by acclaimed documentarians like Vikram Gandhi ( Kumare) and Alison Klayman ( Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry). There are Democrats and Republicans, Trump diehards and Bernie bros, Hillary proponents and anti-establishment twentysomethings. To witness 11/8/16 unfurl is to accept dramatic irony. "It's not unlike watching certain narrative films where the audience knows the ending and the characters don't," said Deutchman. We know the ending to this story.
When we sat down with Klayman by phone, we discussed her portion of the project, how she's coped since, and why it's time we ask the right questions.
VICE: You woke up the morning of 8th. What happened next?
Alison Klayman: I was a bit nervous about it being a long day. I didn't have any plan for when it may end. My segment was in Philadelphia—where I'm registered to vote and where I grew up. My parents' address is the best permanent address for me, since I've mostly lived abroad the past decade. In the morning, I went to vote with my mom. We took a selfie, and it felt cool to vote for a woman for President. There was some joy in that moment and sharing it with my mom.
Did you ever consider that Donald Trump would win?
I thought there was a chance, because we're living in America. The fact that he was the candidate made it clear that there was a chance. When I think about it, I was somewhat uneasy in the morning. I didn't specifically picture how the night would play out, but it's kinda like documentary filmmaking: You want to go in with preparations, but you don't want to go in knowing the story because then there's no element of discovery in the process or the filmmaking. That's why an election seemed like a good thing to document.
At what point during that day did you feel the tide changing?
I know exactly when it was, and I was so glad it made the film. It was Ed Rendell's call on Radio Times, that point in the night where early returns were coming in. The hosts were asking leading questions about Hillary and what she'll need to do to heal the divide in the beginning of her term. He said, "Well I don't know if she's going to be the President elect. Let's just get through tonight." It was flippant. He wasn't playing devil's advocate. At that point I called my husband who was watching it with friends in New York and I said to him, "I'm feeling kinda nervous." People who should've sounded confident were not sounding confident.
When you were watching the film, did you feel like you learned something?
Never underestimate the malevolence of an old, powerful white man. I didn't learn that during the film, but I was reminded of it.
[Laughs] Right, and I think that's actually the right question: What have we learned? There's gotta be some lesson: Whatever reaction you had to that day, we know what happened now. It would be really hard to make a movie that teaches something, but I do think the film is asking what the lesson is.
Given your experiences, do you think you've learned anything in the last year about this country, or more specifically about what happened that day?
I'm in the process of figuring out what the right questions are. Globally, if there are blindspots, it means that we weren't focusing on the right things. If we're asking questions, do we understand the answers? I'm thinking about what I can make next, because that's going to guide what I make next. This project was "See what happens on this day," so now we're considering why we did that and where it's going to take us.