The Candidate shows what it takes to run for election, at a time when Western democracies are under threat from rising populism, and the Australian parliament is held in greater contempt by the electorate than any other time in the nation’s history. Over five federal elections, social worker Alex Bhathal has stood as the candidate for the minority party The Greens, in the federal seat of Batman, north of Melbourne. It has been a Labor Party strong hold for over 80 years. But the Greens have managed to whittle that support to a 1% margin, their primary vote growing from 4% to over 50%. The seat is now one of the most marginal in country. A snap by-election, bought on by the discovery that the sitting Labor member carries dual citizenship, an issue that has rocked parliament for months, means Alex is running for a sixth time in 16 years. But this time the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. For the first time, the Greens are the favourites to win. But Labor’s new candidate is Ged Kearney, a left wing, progressive ex nurse and union leader. Labor are spending BIG on their campaign. Alex, by contrast, must rely on the support of Greens volunteers and donors. If she wins she’ll become only the second Greens member of the lower house of parliament. If she loses, she is unemployed. With unprecedented access, the film follows Alex and support team, from her home, to ‘meet the people’ gatherings, to community forums to volunteer breakfasts and back home again. Also captured is the work, thoughts and feelings of the volunteers doing the myriad time consuming, thankless tasks it takes to run an election campaign - door knocking, badge making, phone banking, poster hanging, running polling booths. Fellow Greens parliamentarians shed light on what parliamentary life is like, as they support Alex phone banking or handing out how to vote cards. Also captured are the thoughts and feelings of other minor party candidates. Kev, from Corey Bernardi's Conservatives talks about why he’s running in the most progressive electorate in the country. Janine, candidate for the Animal Justice Party knows that whatever discomfort she experiences is nothing compared to that of the animals she is trying to give voice to. In the midst of the campaign, Alex finds she must deal with her toughest fight of all – a smear campaign by anonymous members of her own party, via the national media. Alex, volunteers and parliamentary colleagues alike share the emotion of the election outcome, and the aftermath as they seek to grapple with what has happened. Some despair, some become more determined than ever to fight on. Alex herself is shattered by the results and the dirty tricks campaign. Party leader Richard De Natale has ordered an inquiry into the loss. The documentary will end with the findings of that enquiry in late May. Whether Alex will run again in the next election is unknown.
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
This project aims to contribute to the public discourse on the system of parliamentary democracy in this country. As stated in the synopsis, democratic institutions and systems of government are under pressure the world over (1). As also stated, the electorate increasingly hold politicians in contempt (2). The Candidate provides some hope in this bleak landscape in providing an insight into the inner working of this system and the often admirable motivations of the politicians, party members and volunteers that are essential to our democratic system of government. This project will be suitable for philanthropic foundations that support public discourse and a greater awareness of public, government and democratic institutions.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
The major outcome of this project is to add to an informed public discourse about our parliamentary democracy. It can do this because of the unusually ‘inner sanctum access’ that the filmmakers have achieved, which provides a human face to the political process. The impact will be measured by the success of the exhibition and distribution strategy. This is aimed as television, on-line, film festivals and educational institutions.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
The production team is talking to academics specialising in the study of democratic systems, nationally and internationally at the University of Melbourne and RMIT university to explore the connection between the documentary and their research. The producers will also be looking to establish a relationship with a distributor who is in the education market.