A Campaign of Their Own

Not available for screening anymore

A Campaign of Their Own (Battre la campagne)

Directed by Lionel Rupp

  • Switzerland 2017; 74 min
  • Original version: English
  • Genre: Documentary

  • Karlovy Vary IFF


Jonathan Katz is convinced that Bernie Sanders is the only true hope for transforming America. Swept up by his enthusiasm for the Democratic-Socialist senator from Vermont, he joins thousands of other activists in New York City to get Sanders on the 2016 presidential ballot.

But as the primaries come to an end and Sanders concedes the race to Hilary Clinton in Philadelphia, Jonathan accuses the Democratic party of cheating and being responsible for the defeat of the one everyone called "Bernie".

Director's Statement

Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States was an important source of inspiration for the film. It tells the political history of the U.S. from the point of view of political movements and everyday citizens—not of their leaders. It tells of the struggles of Native Americans, unions, feminists, African Americans, and all oppressed groups who have tried, and sometimes succeeded, to improve their lives through uphill battles.

Bernie’s campaign is in line with a movement that came too late to be included in another of Zinn’s book: Occupy Wall Street. The core principles of the 99%ers resonate throughout Sanders’ campaign, especially with Sanders’ focus on reducing the gender, race, and economic inequalities in America. Bernie always spoke using the third-person plural “us” instead of the “I” used by most presidential candidates. But as the events of 2016 unrolled, his campaign eventually found itself hijacked by this “us” as his supporters virulently protested his endorsement of Hilary Clinton in Philadelphia. Herein lies the meaning of the title A Campaign of Their Own. Bernie’s people ended up going further than Bernie himself, becoming a sort of monstrosity campaign without structure or leader that pulled itself apart and in every different direction.

A Campaign of Their Own shows a different campaign than the one told by the mainstream media and gives a voice to the activists on the historical stage instead of the politicians in the spotlight. The film shows how Sanders’ activists lived the campaign, reappropriated it, and spoke about the Democratic Party. We learn through their own words what their hope is for the country and how they felt about Bernie’s defeat.

We didn’t hold any casting before arriving in New York, preferring to meet activists in meetings, at campaign headquarters, and at rallies. I made a point to film as close-up as possible, creating the tightest possible relationship between spectator and protagonist. And instead of directly approaching Bernie Sanders, we decided to film the campaign from the reverse angle, taking the point of view of the crowd instead of the candidate behind the podium. Bernie appears in the background, behind the activists.

The film allows for a reevaluation of the United State’s democratic system as well as the failure of the European left to implement its agenda. The U.S. Democratic Party is similar in many ways to the centrist left parties in Europe who are incapable of reform from within, do not have a substantial platform, and systematically lose terrain in every election.

The film also approaches the much larger question of the role of citizens in modern democracy. Is the way in which the U.S. Democratic primaries played out symptomatic of the aging of Europe’s leftist parties? Can a political movement survive the loss of its leader? Are elections an opportunity for veritable democratic participation or blind adherence to a system that gives the illusion of choice?



    Michael Mitchell 

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