In Laura Fallsgraff's involving 31-minute short docThe 39th, Will Guzzardi is a 26-year-old activist in Chicago, a city in a state long noted as having a bloated, dysfunctional political system despite many reported attempts to address it. Determined to do something about Illinois' dysfunctional system from the inside, Guzzardi decides to State Representative in Illinois' 39th District, a not so easy task considering the incumbent is the daughter of one of the most connected politicians in Chicago - Maria Antonia Berrios.
Berrios had narrowly defeated Guzzardi in 2012, a fact The 39th never really addresses, before this 2014 campaign that starts off as mostly cordial before Guzzardi's campaign begins showing signs of life with Guzzardi's remarkably grassroots, door-by-door approach that seems to be appealing to the urban district where he campaigns. Before long, it becomes clear that the establishment isn't going to just give up power and Guzzardi starts to learn just how far those in power will go to retain it.
The 39th is most effective, and is remarkably effective, as an exploration of grassroots campaigning and the ability of one person with a small campaign staff to effect change one door at a time. Guzzardi is quietly charismatic, a Brown University graduate who worked as an associate editor of the Chicago Branch of Huffington Post prior to his entering into politics.
Where The 39th falls a bit short is in its climactic moments as Guzzardi's campaign winds down and goes toe-to-toe with an establishment that starts to bring up Guzzardi's past writings that might suggest, if one really stretches it, that he would be soft on sex offenders. It's a ridiculous claim, and one that fortunately most of the voters in the 39th saw through, but The 39th as a film never really delves deeper into these tensions and the subsequent election night. It's the subsequent election night and a brief period that follows it, that feels most unsatisfying here as it's never completely clear the result of the election until final shots give us a logical, if not particularly involving, resolution.
The 39th is a good short doc that is desperately close to being a great, truly involving short doc about a political system gone awry. It's timely and relevant to today, incredibly so, yet the film lacks a sense of urgency that it could really use.
Despite minor concerns about The 39th, it's still one of the best doc shorts at the 2018 Indy Film Fest where it will screen with 2350 Last Call: The Neo Story on Sunday, April 29th at 5pm inside The Toby and on Friday, May 4th at 9:15pm inside Indy Film Fest's newest screening area, Indy Film Salon.
Adam Wisneski's lensing is solid throughout, especially in capturing Guzzardi's many door-to-door adventures in Chicago's infamously challenging winters, while Thomas Miller's original music serves as a solid campaign throughout the film's 31-minute running time.
For more information on the film's Indy Film Fest screenings, visit the Indy Film Fest website.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic