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Street Fight   (released 5/1/2006)
By Ali Imran Zaidi

Having still barely recovered from the rambunctious presidential election of 2004, it can be difficult to voluntarily drop yourself into the drama of yet another exhausting election. The 2002 Newark, New Jersey Mayoral election covered by the interesting Oscar-nominated documentary film, Street Fight, is no less 'spirited' than was the infamous road to the White House of 2004. In fact, there are elements of this election shown by Street Fight that make the boiling pot of the 2004 presidential election seem like barely a simmer.

Yet films like this are essential for the American people to see. If only to see that election methodologies akin to those of third world countries are still alive and well here within our own American borders. Palm-greasing, power-abusing, and even good old-fashioned threatening of the opposition – these are all things that remind me of the kind of elections my extended family in Pakistan has witnessed over the years, not the kind one would expect Americans to witness today in one of our largest, oldest, most proud states.

In Street Fight, we have Cory Booker, a city councilman and Rhodes Scholar, going head to head against Sharpe James, the incumbent in the election, and Mayor of Newark for almost 20 years. A modern David vs. Goliath story if ever there was one, this story is one which Sharpe James' crew tried to forcefully obstruct several times over. And one where Marshall Curry, the filmmaker behind this intriguing documentary, did what all good documentarians do – he stood up in the face of the powers that be to properly document and relay a story, and then lets the audience decide based on what was said (or not said) by all parties. In Sharpe James' case, the forced silence was deafening and his own overzealous people cemented his role as the antagonist. In Curry's own words, "If somebody doesn't want you to tell a story this much, it's probably a story that needs to be told." This pretty much sets the tone of Sharpe James' role in Street Fight.

It's now 2006, and Newark will very soon be in the heat of another Mayoral election. One can only hope the citizens of Newark watch this documentary and give it the gray matter it deserves. It's yet another instance of PBS's POV films excelling and uncovering the stories that traditional news media are just too 'busy' to properly cover. But that's another documentary in and of itself.

If you liked such documentary films as The Last Party (with Robert Downey Jr.) or War Room, you will definitely enjoy Street Fight. Is it Oscar-nomination worthy? Well, no need to get into that discussion of politics, but if nothing else, it's a good way to start toughening yourself up for this 2006 election year and what will surely be a truly grueling 2008.

Ali Imran Zaidi is a filmmaker, writer and web developer - shooting, banging on keyboards, and making web sites in the Orlando area.

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