What is Democracy? asks a seemingly simple, fundamental question about democracy that leads to a complex array of answers that lead to even more provocative questions. If you think that democracy is working well in America, think again. Philosopher/political activist Cornel West has plenty of insights to wake you up and shake you up to the realities and deceptions of American democracy---we're supposed to be a country of the people, for the people and by the people, but American democracy doesn't quite work that way if a small group of powerful people make decisions as though they're speaking for the majority. Is there such a thing as a full democracy? How can full democracy ever exist in a country if its citizens aren't democratic? Those are among the other interesting questions that this documentary explores. Director Astra Taylor travels around the world interviewing scholars and some members of the public who talk about how they feel about democracy in their country and what would be their ideal form of democracy. One interviewee says that democracy means freedom; another one goes even further and says that it means justice. Italian-American scholar/activist Silvia Federici also adds kernels of wisdom as well as she explains democracy via a mural in Italy. Eleni Perdikouri and Angela Davis are among the many other very illuminating subjects interviewed.
Astra Taylor should be commended for presenting a wealth of information to audiences in a way that's not heavy-handed or preachy. History, philosophy and political science professors or teachers could easily show this doc to their students without any of them losing their attention or falling asleep. It should be mandatory viewing for all high school students and for anyone who cares about the future of America. Someone I once knew shockingly claimed, in all seriousness, that it's harder to lose democracy than it is to gain democracy, and when I replied to him that it's actually the other way around, he strongly disagreed. If only he were still alive today to watch this film and to realize how wrong he was. What is Democracy? is far more provocative, fair and balanced than any films that Michael Moore and Dinesh D'Souza have ever made. It's a vital, profound and eye-opening documentary. You'll never look at democracy the same way again. Zeitgeist Films opens it at IFC Center.