An Evening of Cinema

  • Date(s): Wednesday, January 25th 2006
  • Time: 6:30 p.m.
  • Location: Niobrara County Library


“Anytown, USA”

a film by Kristian Fraga

All politics is local in this hilarious burlesque of a documentary following a tightly-run mayoral race in the small town of Bogota, New Jersey. When the much-reviled–and legally blind–Republican incumbent Steven Lonegan boldly announces he will run for re-election, the citizens of Bogota go on the offensive to unseat him. Enter Democrat Fred Pesce, coaxed from retirement to share the ticket. With his health in question, and his politics compared to those of Tony Soprano, the field is wide open for sight-challenged town booster and former local football hero Dave Musikant to step in as a long-shot write-in independent candidate–officially making it the only mayoral race in the nation where two of the three candidates are legally blind! Add to the mix the machinations of Jesse “The Body” Ventura`s campaign manager, and “Anytown, USA” resonates as an all-too-familiar look at the charade of partisan politics in our increasingly polarized nation. English, 93 minutes.

Review – Review – Review – Review

October 4, 2005
Winning a Scrappy Race, and a Bit of the Limelight, Too

Published: October 4, 2005
WOODSTOCK, N.Y., Oct. 1 – So here’s the plot.

Two guys – one a legally blind right-wing mayor from a small town in New Jersey, the other a maverick political consultant who helped Jesse Ventura become governor of Minnesota – show up at a film festival.

The setting is a place where the audiences are so left-leaning that people once booed a film about a Cuban dissident because they found it too critical of Fidel Castro.

Even weirder: The politicians are there as promoters of an award-winning independent movie that has been picked up for distribution next year in theaters across the country.

Oh, and one more thing: They’re the stars of the show.

There are a lot of liberal hippies here, huh? said Steve Lonegan, the Republican mayor of the Bergen County town of Bogota, shortly before the screening of a documentary about his 2003 campaign. “You think they’re going to chase me into a corner and attack me?”

Mr. Lonegan, who recently sought the Republican nomination for governor, emerged intact. But it was an odd cultural collision of New Jersey politics and art house cinema, indeed, this weekend at the sixth annual Woodstock Film Festival, where a group of producers from New Jersey toasted the announcement of a distribution deal for the documentary, “Anytown, U.S.A.”

The movie, the creation of Kristian Fraga and Juan Dominguez, tells the story of the 2003 campaign for mayor that takes unexpected, and heartbreaking, twists and turns.

“We were like, wow,” said Mr. Dominguez, a former Bogota town councilman who refinanced his house to pay the initial production costs of his project. “We realized as we were filming that we had something special on our hands.”

The story starts just weeks before the election, with the campaign of Mr. Lonegan, whose budget-slashing conservatism and bombastic style as mayor polarized the once tight-knit town of about 8,000. The Democratic challenger was almost tragically inept, brought out of retirement for one last run. Then a third candidate, a local high school sports hero who, like Mr. Lonegan, is partly blind, stepped in as an independent. He recruited Doug Friedline, a consultant who aided Mr. Ventura, to manage his write-in campaign.

The campaign was as hard-fought as any national race, without ever being in danger of being mistaken for one; there was no shortage of propaganda, rumor-mongering and a bitter battle over lawn signs.

And it all took place against the backdrop the Bogota High School football team’s run to the state championship, which came after the mayor’s austerity measures almost eliminated school sports.

The documentary is the antithesis of “The War Room,” the 1993 film that glorified the efforts of James Carville and George Stephanopoulos in selling Bill Clinton to the American people. Almost inadvertently, its point is that elections are about hard work and, surprise, candidates and their policies.

Or, as Thomas P. O’Neill famously put it, providing the film with its opening, “All politics is local.”

The documentary was produced by a group of filmmakers, including Mr. Fraga, who grew up in Leonia, near Bogota, and recently moved their company, Sirk Productions, to Manhattan from Fort Lee. “Anytown” was recently bought by Film Movement, a New York distributor, and will run early next year.

It was awarded best documentary at the Long Island and Minneapolis-St. Paul film festivals this year, and Mr. Fraga won best director honors at the Trenton Film Festival.

Part of its appeal, perhaps, is that it is impossible to discern the ideological leanings of the storytellers. (Mr. Fraga is an affirmed liberal, while Mr. Dominguez – a former running mate of Mr. Lonegan – calls himself a “moderate Republican.”)

Mr. Friedline said the message transcended partisan politics.

“I think this movie is about an opportunity to see what happens when someone gets passionate about the issues and throws him or herself into a campaign,” he said.

At points in the film, Mr. Lonegan is hissable. During a question-and-answer session after the screening, Mark Portier, of New Paltz, told him: “I just wanted to say what a treat this was. It’s like going to see ‘Star Wars’ and Darth Vader himself gets up to take a bow.”

The remark rolled off Mr. Lonegan, who sees his star turn as the start of something big.

“Come on,” he urged the producers at a party after the screening. “You’ve got to make a sequel. Just think of the great reality show we could do.”
Lonegan Has Starring Role in Documentary

The Associated Press
Sunday, May 1, 2005; 2:53 PM

TRENTON, N.J. — A documentary examining the oddities of a small-town mayor’s race may not win Steve Lonegan any acting awards, but it will give the underdog candidate for governor some free screen time before the GOP primary.

considered the most conservative of New Jersey’s seven Republican gubernatorial contenders, Lonegan is front and center in “Anytown USA,” a 93-minute film lauded at last month’s Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival.

documentary, debuting Sunday in New Jersey at the Trenton Film Festival, looks at the 2003 mayoral race in the tiny Bergen County town of Bogota (pronounced Ba-GO-da). Lonegan, a tough-talking, fiscally conservative incumbent, was running for re-election after angering many by restricting school spending.

Lonegan, who is legally blind, was challenged by Democrat Fred Pesce and Dave Musikant, a former football player who lost his sight because of a brain tumor and is running as an independent write-in candidate.

“It’s a microcosm of the national political scene,” said director Kristian Fraga, whose film won the emerging filmmakers best documentary award in Minneapolis. “We hope when people see it, they’ll pay attention to the importance of voting.”

Besides featuring two legally blind candidates, the Bogota mayor’s race had other peculiarities. Doug Friedline, who helped Jesse “The Body” Ventura win the Minnesota governor’s race, signed on to help Musikant with his write-in campaign.

In the documentary, Lonegan at times comes off as strong-willed and mean-spirited. Still, he pronounced the film “terrific.”

“It caught the essence of a local campaign. What it didn’t show was that Dave, Fred and I were friendly with each other,” Lonegan said.

Lonegan said the film is unlikely to affect his chances in the June 7 Republican primary, where he trails front-runners Doug Forrester and Bret Schundler by as much as 30 percentage points, according to recent polls. Nor will it directly help his campaign coffers.

Unfortunately, I don’t get any royalties, he said.

For more information call the library at 334-3490.