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New Documentary On the 2016 Republican National Convention Premieres At the Cleveland Film Fest

Last summer’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland may be a distant memory for some people, but a new film profiles those four days in July. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports on “A More Civil War,” premiering tonight at the Capitol Theater as part of the Cleveland International Film Festival.

The new film is the result of a team of four film crews who worked around-the-clock to capture what was going on at the Republican National Convention.

"It was one of the most exciting things that I've ever gotten to be a part of,” says Danielle Miller, editor of "A More Civil War."

“It's really cool being there and seeing people fight for what they believe in. And I feel like there was this feeling of disappointment from the media that nothing happened. But I thought that was more powerful: I thought that people were there and expressing their opinions and doing what you do in democracy."

Miller says there was so much going on that it was sometimes difficult to capture everything. The film’s director, Geoff Yaw, agrees. He says the media did a good job inside the convention hall, but that wasn’t his focus.

Suspicion of the media

“The crew that was inside the convention, the closest they got to Donald Trump was Ben Carson. They're both in there, but in terms of closeness and face-to-face interviews, you couldn't get near Trump.”

Yaw says the president’s tense relationship with the press was mirrored by many of his supporters, who were sometimes reluctant to talk.

"I found myself asking people to not be defensive. I think, if you were pro-Trump in that period of time, your assumption was, ‘Here’s a person with a microphone and a camera; they’re here to make me look foolish.’ The minute I said, ‘Why are you being so defensive?,’ that wall kind of came down.”

This is shoulder tap

Many of the interviews, though, were conducted through the lens of visitors to the convention.

"There's a young, 18-year-old citizen journalist that we follow in our movie.”

He’s referring to Phil Hedayatnia, who unexpectedly finds himself in a protest near the beginning of the film, and starts recording with his phone, saying, “We're in Public Square where both supporters of Black Lives Matter, as well as the Westboro Baptist Church, are protesting. And other affiliated groups.”

Yaw adds, “Any sort of ‘shoulder tap’ interview that you see, comes through their eyes. So we’re actually shooting them shooting their ‘shoulder tap’ interviews. We’re kind of poaching those moments. So we didn’t have to do much of that ourselves.”

Hedayatnia is one of many characters followed throughout “A More Civil War,” which also features pastors, passers-by and protestors.

"I think -- in the lead-up to the RNC -- people were really expecting 1968-style civil disobedience and violence. That's one of the reasons we saw the police force that we saw."

Police officers are conspicuous in many of the outdoor scenes, to the point that they seem to blend into the cityscape by the mid-point of the film. That’s about when conservative radio host Alex Jones marches into Public Square, causing a brief melee.

“We’re not putting up with it. We’re not going along with it. We understand the violence of the left. The violence of the globalists. And we’re not gonna back off.”

People, not politics

That, and the flag-burning near The Q, are among the few moments of genuine civil unrest. Yaw says he was more interested in civic engagement.

“You'll be surprised. The film itself deals much more with humanistic issues and much less with policy issues. What we really did was we found individuals -- no matter which side of the issues they were -- that had something to do. They were on a mission. Whether they be pro-Trump or anti-Trump. So we don't really get into a lot of prognosticating about who's going to win the election because it was really a snapshot of that moment in time.”

That’s why Yaw was adamant that the cameras run only during the convention -- from July 18-21 -- leaving out the rest of the campaign and then the election.

"I told a friend of mine recently that I stopped making any kind of predictions about Donald Trump a long time ago. I didn't really think Donald Trump had a shot in the national election. And boy, was I wrong."

Yaw and his crew began work on “A More Civil War” immediately after the convention, and were continuing right up until this week, distilling 150 hours of footage down to two hours that will premiere tonight at the Cleveland International Film Festivalat the Capitol Theater.

Copyright 2021 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams (left) was nearly toppled as conservative protestors marched onto Public Square during the RNC.
Calvin Williams
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams (left) was nearly toppled as conservative protestors marched onto Public Square during the RNC.

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. A graduate of Hudson High School, he received his Bachelor's from Kent State University. While a Kent student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.