Oscar's Documentary Shortlist
DIRECTOR: Weijun Chen
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER: His previous film, “To Live Is Better Than to Die,” won a Peabody Award.
FINANCING: Shot for $240,000, pic was commissioned by Steps Intl. (Denmark) and financed by various broadcasters, including PBS, BBC, NHK (Japan) and CBC. Funding also came from ITVS and a grant from Sundance.
THEME: Democracy comes to China with the first-ever election of class monitor for the third-graders at Evergreen Primary School in the Hubei province capital of Wuhan. Think “Kid Nation,” only instead of “Lord of the Flies,” the literary antecedents are “The Making of the President” and “Quotations From Chairman Mao.”
VARIETY REVIEW SAYS: “At a time when the exportation of democracy serves as a rationale for war, ‘Please Vote For Me’ attains must-see status.”
DISTRIBUTION STATUS: Played Los Angeles for Oscar eligibility as well as short, single-screen frames in 14 other U.S. cities. Ran on PBS (as part of its “Independent Lens” series) in October.
ON THE MAKING OF THE FILM: When executive producer Don Edkins returned to his native South Africa for that nation’s first democratic election in 1994, the germ for the “Why Democracy” series was planted. “It made me wonder if democracy is something innate or has to be taught,” Edkins says. China, where a newfound economic openness is shadowed by the repression of the nation’s Communist regime, seemed a perfect laboratory. The search for a subject proved fruitless until Chen showed up with footage featuring Cheng Cheng, the most personable of Evergreen Primary’s three 8-year-old candidates. The microcosm of school election allowed Edkins to “make an exceedingly difficult issue accessible.”