Voters wait in long lines outside one of Milwaukee's five polling places on Apr. 7, 2020.
Voters wait in long lines outside one of Milwaukee's five polling places on Apr. 7, 2020. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Convention film shows the successful pivot from door-knocking to online activities that helped unseat a conservative Supreme Court justice.

A documentary telling the story of Wisconsin’s now-infamous “pandemic election” was shown as part of Thursday night’s broadcast of the Democratic National Convention. 

Dress Rehearsal, a 17-minute film from director David Modigliani, was originally intended to be shown to delegates in the Fiserv Forum shortly before Joe Biden took the state to formally accept his party’s presidential nomination. Modigliani may be best known for his 2019 film, Running with Beto, which followed then-Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s attempt to unseat Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

The film first reminds viewers of the confusion and logistical nightmares that plagued the efforts to hold or delay a statewide election in the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak. Despite public health concerns, a conservative-led Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected an effort by Gov. Tony Evers to delay the April 7 election that included a race between conservative Justice Dan Kelly, publicly backed by President Donald Trump, and challenger Jill Karofsky.

The subjects in Modigliani’s documentary then shift to explaining how Wisconsin Democrats and progressives successfully pivoted from traditional campaign methods and adopted new digital tactics for voter targeting and communication. With traditional door-knocking no longer a viable option, progressives quickly designed and executed online strategies to give voters information beyond the flood of political TV commercials.

Karofsky would go on to defeat Kelly. She was sworn in as an associate justice on August 1. The subjects in the film believe what they did to win in April amounted to a dress rehearsal of what they feel will be needed this fall as the pandemic continues to impact Wisconsin lives and campaign tactics.

As reported by the Daily Beast, Dress Rehearsal was commissioned by Higher Ground Labs, a Democratic-oriented venture capital firm emphasizing new technologies in progressive politics, whose investors include Silicon Valley billionaires. The film was also funded by two other progressive firms, ACRONYM and Arena. 

[UpNorthNews is the Wisconsin digital media outlet for Courier Newsroom, which is funded by the non-profit ACRONYM and others. UpNorthNews Managing Editor Pat Kreitlow is among the subjects interviewed in the film.]

The film premiered on the website of Crooked Media, the home of Pod Save America and its activist subsidiary Vote Save America. Dress Rehearsal can be seen in its entirety on YouTube HERE.