In search of visionary ideas to make democracy more democratic (or accountable, efficient, and inclusive), filmmaker Andrew James Benson journeys to startup nations like Taiwan and Estonia, explores bold concepts from hacktivists and science fiction writers, and finds an unexpected revelation on the shores of West Africa.





Act I: Connectivity = Democracy 
Democracy is in decline. Technology is promising to fix it 

After watching the continued disregard of citizen desires by democratic governments and the limited impact of social movements, Benson starts a journey to explore how citizens and government should interact in the future. In 2013, he moves to San Francisco where technology was promising to disrupt everything — including democracy. There he finds the civic technology (or CivicTech) community and documents their efforts to enhance citizen-led decision-making and secure better representation. Benson then introduces us to the world’s most successful and audacious CivicTech experiments. In Estonia, former President Toomas Ilves, speaks about the establishment of the world’s first e-democracy and the benefits of electronic voting. Taiwanese Digital Minister, Audrey Tang, explains how the translation tools of artificial intelligence (AI) are enabling citizens to actively participate in policy making. And then Benson meets Santi Siri, an Argentine hacker who is pioneering a new model for representation called Liquid Democracy using blockchain-based proxy voting.

Inspired by these innovations, Benson searches for those taking these ideas even further into the future. This leads him to science fiction writers Karl Schroeder and Malka Older, whose work explores how democracy will look like in the late 21st Century. Karl’s work imagines policy-making assisted by simulation software that reveals the implications of political decisions before they are enacted. He also shares a radical idea of having AIs represent the will of natural systems in global governance. Malka proposes “Infomacracy”, a new model for democracy where access to evidenced-based information is a basic right. Going back in history, Benson recreates the ideas of leading democracy scholar Robert Dahl, who detailed a new model for representation and citizen-created policy in his 1987 text Sketches for a Democratic Utopia. We’re then led to 1973 Chile where Stafford Beer, a British Cyberneticist was building a new model of a decentralized, data and citizen-driven democracy for President Salvador Allende.



Act II: Connectivity ≠ Democracy 
Weaponization of technology

After an exciting first act—one full of promise—Benson exposes the resistances that conservative political bureaucracies have presented to these innovations. We see a US-backed coup destroy the technological experiment in Chile and then — some 40 years later — see its architect, Henry Kissinger speaking in 2015 at Google Headquarters on the dangers that technology presents to modern democracy. In fact, as Benson argues, using technological tools to enhance citizen’s participation and increase transparency of decision-making processes could destroy the elite-based system of current political representation.

In this context, Bensons reflects on how politicians and corporations have instrumentalized these technological innovations to maintain the status quo and strengthen control over the population. Act II then analyses the risks of new technologies and how they have been used to suppress democracy with democracy scholar, Larry Diamond and other civictech commentators like Catherine Bracy and Micah Sifry. Diamond describes that we are entering a “Democratic Recession” – a period of our history when democracies in the world started to decline. This comes as new research by VOX is released showing that a large percentage of US voters favor authoritarian leaders and those who don’t could be made to favor authoritarianism if subjected to sufficient fear. The spread of “Fake News” and new forms of voter manipulation in the 2016 US elections cause a moment of reckoning for the civictech community. This brings Benson to address existential questions about our desire for democracy— and leads him to seek solutions elsewhere. 



Act III: Community = Democracy 
Promise in indigenous democratic architecture
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Wanting to reflect on electoral politics and representation outside of the US and Europe, Benson heads to West Africa and is thrown right into Liberia’s presidential election. It will be the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history. The dramatic election lets us reflect on the limits of democracy itself: electoral manipulation, the role of elites in the political parties, corporatization of politics and, ultimately, the formation of an unrepresentative government —all in a place that has been an experiment in state building since its inception and is currently the fourth poorest place on earth. While reflecting on the malfunctions of the democracy in Liberia and its similarities to democracies of the West, Benson investigates indigenous pro-democracy social technologies. In the middle of the election drama, Benson witnesses the power of an indigenous institution, the “Palava Hut”, which in many ways solve problems of participation in decision-making and could signal the way of the future for democracy as it is a great example of accountability, inclusivity, and efficiency. Benson reflects that perhaps democracy of the 22nd Century A.D. should look more communities of the 22nd Century B.C. In these settings we had more human connection, and to some degree more inclusive representation. It leaves the viewer reflecting on the communal nature of democracy and perhaps the connections that we have lost in the modern age.


Debey brings natural and poignant narratives about Liberia’s history, the state of democracy in the nation, its idea of liberty, the role of political parties, and how the politician’s quest for political power-intrinsic in modern politics-is antithetical to the African leadership model.
The anarchist and first trans minister in Taiwan, Audrey Tang, details Taiwanese democratic innovations which are delivering citizen-created policy and riffs on how translation tools with AI are going to transform civic participation in policy-making and create a more pluralistic society.
President Ilves is credited with helping to fashion Estonia as the world’s first e-democracy. He talks through being a startup nation in the age of the internet, Estonia’s digital voting, and information warfare.
Malka breaks down her concept of microdemocracy; she alerts us to a distinct lack of stories about positive models of governance; and makes it clear that what we think of as dystopian stories in popular media are typically taken from elements of current realities.
Pia and Santi started exploring liquid democracy in Argentina in 2012 when they created the Net Party-a new political party to document citizen desires and ensure politicians vote in line with them. Pia starts us off with a clip from her TedTalk and Santi defines the promise of liquid democracy.
Andrew places information in context, ties concepts together, and offers a sense of adventure to the inquisition. The tone of his narration is horizontal, self-aware, provocative and rooted in critical analysis.
In the political maelstrom of the past five years, I sought to move my gaze from the reactionary to the visionary by looking for bold visions and practical innovations that can make democracy more democratic. My journey is the arc of this film. 

Underpinning everything was a simple starting point: can I help my mother believe that the democracy today does not have to be the democracy of tomorrow?

Legendary psychologist Philip Zimbardo has shown that each of us hold one of four dominant perspectives: past negative, past positive, future negative, or future positive. These perspectives are informed by ones conception of the past and the visions they hold for the future. With this film, my goal is to enrich both and assist viewers in moving toward a future positive view—from what Carol Dweck calls the fixed mindset, to the growth mindset—all in relation to one of the pillars of human progress, which is currently in decline: democracy.

This is a big topic—a massive one—so I approach it with humility and a unique curiosity informed by years of crafting strategic communications for  impact organizations and social issue documentaries. I also do this by amplifying powerful voices often unheard: a largely unknown community, a trans Taiwanese anarchist; Argentine hackers, a female African American labor organizer from Oakland, an African female journalist, and a female science fiction author working on governance issues, among others. The global south and strong females are very much central to this film. At the end an African scholar, who studies peace in a war-torn nation becomes our voice of reason. Their visions are what excite me and as documentarian I carry the distinct honor of being a steward for them. 

· ~70% of physical production has been completed
· Actively revising a rough cut that includes scratch narration, rough broll placement, and scene descriptions for desired material. Request a rough cut review at andrew@andrewjamesbenson.com
· Seeking high profile Executive Producer, or production company, and/or agent to attach to the project and assist with securing completion funds (for additional production and post-production), festival placements, and a licensing deal with a VOD platform

working timeline


Rough Cut Reviews and Revisions
· April-June 2019 · Sharing rough cut with trusted collaborators and revising.

Fundraising and Development
· July 2019 · Distribute rough cut to industry connections. Set meetings in LA and NY with EPs, production companies, and agents to share the work and seek completion funds ($50-150k) and a licensing deal for VOD distribution

Completion/Festival Submission/Marketing
Fall 2019 · Shoot pick-up scenes and recreations; create animation and score; mix and color.

Distribution
· April 2020 · Premiere at renowned festival and release on VOD
· April – November 2020 · Host community screenings and facilitate future-focused discussions about democracy.


previous activities


Pre-Production
· 2012 · Phoenix · Developed concept for project on the future of democracy
· 2013 · San Francisco · Bibliographical research
· 2014 · San Francisco · Pitched a series concept called, Coding Democracy to Omidyar Group and ITVS. It was a Black Mirror-like show which explored positive stories about democracy and technology.
· 2016 · San Francisco · Created story architecture

Production
· March 2017 · San Francisco · Self-funded production with key characters from story architecture: Santiago Siri, Catherine Bracy, and President Toomas Ilves 
· April 2017 · San Francisco · Produced and released 2 episodes of a web series called Coding Democracy (codingdemocracy.tv) featuring Santiago Siri and Catherine Bracy, then quickly pivoted to focus solely on a feature film
· May 2017 · Oslo · Attended, networked, and filmed interviews for the documentary at the Oslo Freedom Forum
· June 2017 · New York · Attended, networked, and filmed interviews for the documentary at the Personal Democracy Forum
· June 2017 · New York · Presented interview selects and brainstormed the concept with a small group at NYU ITP’s summer program
· September 2017 · Johannesburg · Produced and hosted a panel called Coding Democracy at Singularity University’s Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa and conducted interviews with panelists from Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and the US.
· September – December 2017 · Liberia · Served as a Fellow of Accountability Lab, covering the presidential election for my project, producing their pro-democracy program, Integrity Idol, and mentoring aspiring filmmakers.
· December 2017 · Taipei · Filmed second interview and broll with Audrey Tang
· March 2019 · New York · Interview with Malka Older 

Post-Production
· February-June 2018 · Johannesburg · Spent one month crafting a rough cut and then served as a Fellow of Accountability Lab to produce Integrity Idol South Africa with the BMW Foundation and the Democracy Works Foundation. 
· July-August 2018 · New York · Script writing based on the transcript of the rough cut and additional interview selects
· April 2019 · Boulder · Spent a week editing to the script and revising, which has produced the rough cut I am sharing now. 

I met Andrew at an entertainment industry summit where we were in a small group strategizing about how to expand the creation and distribution of more social impact media.  I was immediately impressed by his insights, both in media and technology, and especially how he presented his ideas in collaboration with others.  In fact, I was so impressed that I invited him to help me launch Conscious Good.  While working together I was struck by Andrew’s commitment to his personal growth and to creating media that would catalyze positive impact in the world.  Andrew is smart, hard-working, incredibly creative, dedicated, humble and overall a joy to work with.  I can’t say enough good things about him.  My expectations for his film project, his career and his impact on the world, are extremely high. 

Trina Wyatt
Founding Executive Director, Tribeca Film Festival Founder
CEO, Conscious Good 

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I have witnessed the evolution of Andrew from first encounter in 2006 as a fledgling producer and film-maker emerging into an inspiring, innovative and intriguing producer and director. He is one of the few shining a light on the potentially explosive interface between democracy and technology, a more urgent and immediate subject can't be found and I cannot think of anyone better placed to amplify this story to a global audience. I wholeheartedly endorse Andrew and support his application to the fund. 

Johann Insanally
Producer, Eagle Falls (2006-one of Andrew’s first projects) 
Former Producer for Darlow Smithson, BBC Factual, RAW, and Spirit Dance Currently Line Producer at Passion Pictures 

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I joined Andrew's project as an advisor in 2014. I was impressed by his vision and have continued to be impressed by his persistence to tell a powerful story about the future of democracy. We need more stories that cause us to think critically about what will be, not just react to what is. I believe Democracy: An Inquiry will captivate audiences at a moment in history that needs this work more than ever. 

David Evan Harris 
Chancellor’s Public Scholar , UC Berkeley 
Research Director, Institute for the Future 
Executive Director & Founder, Global Lives Project 

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I've been fortunate to work with Andrew on many projects throughout the years as both a supervisor and collaborator. He is one of the most professional and creative people I have ever worked with. His gift to recognize and isolate the critical elements of a complex subject is leveraged by his skill in crafting story structures that lead an audience to clear understanding. He has a brilliant mind and will no doubt continue to succeed at whatever goals he sets. I've had the opportunity to see some rough cuts of his current documentary project on democracy and I feel it holds the potential to attract a very large audience, create important conversations and possibly spark real change. 

Randy Murray 
Director, Randy Murray Productions 
Director, The Joe Show | Co-Director, Mitchell 20 

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Andrew Benson's work in documentary filmmaking is always unparalleled, surprising, absorbing and filled with humanity. 

David Richardson 
Writer/Producer, The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, F is for Family
After working as a student journalist in 2004, Andrew fell in love with storytelling for impact. Between 2005-08 he cut his teeth as a coordinator on The Amazing Race; 3rd AD on the BAFTA-nominated docudrama Eagle Falls; as PM for Discovery and Animal Planet shows; and as the writer/producer/director of marketing videos for impact organizations. This while also story producing The Joe Show documentary, with his mentor turned partner, Director Randy Murray. In 2008, Andrew and Murray began another documentary, Mitchell 20. Andrew produced, wrote, and the two co-directed. Andrew helped raise $550k for this film to cover its 3 year-long production. It was released in 2012 via a theatrical run with AMC Independent and won a regional Emmy for Best Documentary. The same year, Benson sold his original concept Edge of War to Discovery Military. The shows host, General Wesley Clark said it “could reduce enthusiasm for war”, which was exactly its intent. This led to Discovery’s licensing of The Joe Show and a development deal. 

In 2013, Benson moved to San Francisco to pursue this film and set up a creative agency, A Happy Project, where he served as a creative writer, producer, and director on digital products and content projects. Chasing his film, he spent 2017/18 living in Paris, Monrovia, and Johannesburg before settling down in New York. Today, he works with clients like the BMW Foundation, Accountability Lab, Humanity United, and Tomorrow Lab. 

He is a graduate of Arizona State University with a Bachelors of Interdisciplinary Study. In Phoenix, he founded and co-directed the Produce Art Gallery; was a founding co-chair of Generation United; a trustee of the Phoenix Elementary School District Employee Benefits Trust; and on the board of Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation.