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Deciding Vote Review and Audio Q+A with Directors Jeremy Workman and Rob Lyons

Deciding Vote, dirs. Jeremy Workman, Rob Lyons

On June 24th, 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which protected a woman's right to have an abortion. While abortion was generally legalized and protected across the US in 1973 with Roe, New York had already decriminalized abortion in most cases three years earlier, on April 10th, 1970, when they passed what was considered to be the most liberal abortion act in the country. Many in the younger generations may not know the importance of that historic vote. Filmmakers Jeremy Workman and Robert Lyons tell the story of George M. Michaels in “Deciding Vote," the man who changed the fight for reproductive rights in New York, and in turn, the United States of America, forever.

Told through a variety of archival material, the filmmaking duo uses a range of letters, reports, photographs and interviews with Michaels’ family to share a broad range of perspectives about the politician, a member of the New York State Legislature on and off between 1961 and 1970. The appearance of his sons and daughter-in-law in the film effectively shares the personal aspect of George’s life, revealing him to be a man that cared so much about his family and their opinions that he risked (and subsequently lost) his political career with his vote on one bill.

The bill, which would allow women to have abortions until their 24th week of pregnancy or at any time to protect the life of the mother, was strongly opposed by his constituents. The directors thrive in building this tension of this dilemma, noting the conservative leaning of the Auburn community. At one point, local Auburn pastors unite to ask for Michaels' negative vote on the bill. Having the deciding vote, Michaels goes against their wishes and keeps his promise to his son and daughter-in-law - voting in favour of the bill.

In voting, Michaels says: "I had hoped that this would never come to pass. I fully appreciate that this is the termination of my political career, but what's the use in getting elected, or reelected if you don't stand for something?"

The career risk and disappointment of his community is treated with admiration in retrospect. Former council member Ruth Messinger appears to talk about the importance of moral changemakers like Michaels as she fights to preserve his legacy. The editing and pacing is consistent. Even though the viewer knows the ending, they journey down a road of uncertainty alongside the protagonist.

Deciding Vote serves as didactical material to understand the history of the fight for reproductive rights and the path to Roe v Wade in 1973. It makes a great companion piece to “The Janes” by Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin, which approaches how illegal abortions were performed in Chicago, Illinois until 1973. Both “Deciding Vote” and “The Janes” wake us up to the risk women face now that Roe v Wade has been overturned.

Deciding Vote is Shortlisted for the 2024 Academy Awards in Best Documentary Short Film and it had a World Premiere in 2023 Tribeca Film Festival, following a worldwide distribution by The New Yorker. It is a film that pays homage to George Michaels’ historical vote for abortion rights, but also makes notes the vitality of politicians with integrity that can go against their own personal convictions to enact what is best for their communities. It's a film that deserves to be watched and debated.

Review by: Pedro Lima

Deciding Vote is currently available to watch on The New Yorker here:

Audio Q+A with Directors Jeremy Workman and Rob Lyons



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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