When the town council of Billerica, MA quietly passes plans to eliminate the local Town Center (and traffic rotary) to make way for a larger roadway, it spurs resident George Simolaris into action. With handmade signs and a determined attitude, Simolaris works to enlighten the town about the plight of the Town Center, which forces the town council into a special election to determine whether to continue. The rub is that at least 20% of the town’s registered voters need to vote in this special election for it to hold any weight, and the town government isn’t about to make any efforts to inform the public that the special election is even happening; if people don’t show up to vote at all, then everything proceeds as planned. Thus, it is up to Simolaris and his friends’ tireless efforts to inform everyone in town of the election, to make sure that voter turnout is sufficient for a difference to be made.
Brian Dorrington, Jr.’s documentary feature, Homespun Rebellion, is an enlightening look at small town politics. We’ve often seen cinematic tales of larger scale political intrigue, such as presidential elections and the like, but it’s rare to see the realistic day-to-day workings of small government. It’s a story about things that happen all the time, but no one knows about.
Unless your town has its own George Simolaris-type. Passionate, excitable, perhaps too indelicate in some respects, but well-intentioned, Simolaris is the guy keeping his eyes on the local government, and reporting back what he sees in an effort to keep things on the up-and-up. Sometimes those efforts are appreciated, sometimes they are not. Not everyone is a fan of his sign-work, sometimes for the aesthetics of their design and other times for their placement (such as on one neighbor’s fence), and sometimes folks just don’t want to hear what he has to say anymore. But, to his credit, his tactics are effective.
But is this a compelling film? Yes and no. I think the overall tale of political activism is a great one to tell, and I think the film has an intriguing personality in Simolaris to hang its focus on. I think the film looks great, and has enough entertaining elements otherwise to make it somewhat fun.
I don’t think, however, that there are enough narrative developments within to justify the running time. An hour and change on this subject is just too much, especially considering so much of the film is watching Simolaris make signs, place signs, stand around and talk about the Town Center… once we get what is at stake, we get it. Hearing him talk about the same thing over and over again wears out its welcome; you’re not halfway through, and you want to get to the vote already.
In other words, considering the narrative elements that do exist in the film, and the story beats to be found and focused on within the edit, I think there’s probably a really strong 15-20 minute short film in here. Anything much longer is short film limbo, and the film in its current state just does not sustain the momentum for a feature. I also wouldn’t have minded perhaps some onscreen text early-on explaining more succinctly what the matter at hand is, instead of relying predominantly on Simolaris’ words.
As a document of one man’s commitment to the democratic process, and an example of the positive and negative elements of small town government, Homespun Rebellion is an educational experience. The film could be more efficient and engaging, however, but I think it would need a drastic re-edit to achieve those aims. As it stands, I think there’s still much value to be found; at best, maybe it’ll inspire someone to look into their own local government and get involved. At worst, you’ll still probably learn something.
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