Documentary focuses on Michigan fight to fix political redistricting practice

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Gerrymandering is purposely confusing. Even its name is wonky. But the compelling, impassioned documentary "Slay the Dragon" does an effective job of explaining it, showing how it's at odds with the very notion of democracy and getting viewers fired up to do something about it. 

Directors Chris Durrance and Barak Goodman find their hero in Katie Fahey, a Michiganian and self-described "political neophyte" who began looking into gerrymandering in 2016 and quickly found out how much it stinks. 

A quick refresher on gerrymandering: it's the term used to describe the squiggly redistricting lines drawn on maps in order to gain political favor for those drawing them. Another way to put it: "Everything about gerrymandering is stupid and wrong," which is how John Oliver, host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight," sums it up. 

"Slay the Dragon" focuses on Fahey's fight to get an anti-gerrymandering initiative on Michigan's ballot in 2018.  

It broadens its scope by looking at the ways gerrymandering led to the election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and how it helped fuel his divisive political agenda. Some threads dangle: the film opens with an investigation of the Flint water crisis and never revisits it; a look at a Supreme Court case involving the issue comes to an anticlimactic conclusion. 

Yet its heart — and, yes, it's activism — is in the right place. Fahey, who heads up the group Voters Not Politicians (she has since moved on from the group), tries to make sense of a senseless system and "Slay the Dragon" brings viewers along for the ride.

It makes you mad. It should make you mad. Now what are you going to do about it?

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama 

'Slay the Dragon'

GRADE: B

Rated PG-13: for brief strong language

Running time: 104 minutes

Available VOD

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