KSU student appears in Netflix documentary about 2016 election

Hana Barkowitz canvasses door-to-door in Kent before Election Day Nov. 8, 2016. 

Ben Orner

One year ago, Donald Trump won the controversial 2016 U.S. presidential election against Hillary Clinton. 

The events that took place on Election Day Nov. 8, 2016, are the focus of a new documentary, aptly named “11/8/16.”

The film, which premiered Friday, follows 16 people from every corner of America as they started their morning on Election Day to when Trump was declared president-elect in the early hours of Nov. 9.

One of the people who was followed on camera during their emotional rollercoaster was Hana Barkowitz, then-president of the Kent State College Democrats.

A producer and cameraman followed the Pittsburgh native from her morning canvassing in Kent to the stunned silence at the watch party she co-hosted when Trump was finally projected as president. 

The one-hour and 44-minute documentary shows the emotions of every point of view it could. Barkowitz, a senior public relations major, said she fit the archetype of the “fresh-faced college student” among the film’s diverse group of subjects. 

Cameras followed people like undocumented immigrants in California, a homeless man in Honolulu, a coal miner in West Virginia, an exonerated death row inmate in Alabama, a third-party candidate in Vermont, journalists at the Los Angeles Times, a Clinton campaign staffer in New York City and others.

A call from a producer

A few months before the election, Barkowitz got a call from Austin Francalancia, a producer in Los Angeles with The Orchard, the independent film company behind the documentary. 

Francalancia visited Kent just once and pitched a basic idea to Barkowitz; Jen Hutchinson, the president of the Kent State College Republicans; and Keri Richmond, the president of Undergraduate Student Government.

The idea: Three separate film crews would follow them and then converge at the watch party the three organizations hosted at Brewhouse Pub in downtown Kent.

Barkowitz said the filmmakers chose Kent State because of its location in a battleground state. 

“(Austin) thought Ohio State was too big, and he liked the history of Kent,” she said. 

Barkowitz said the filmmakers followed 40 people across the nation, but only 16 appeared in the film, cutting out people like actress Lena Dunham and protesters at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Barkowitz was the only Kent State subject chosen for the final film.

“I feel very fortunate to have been part of it,” she said.

Election Day

Final election forecasts before polls opened gave Trump between a 7 and 29 percent chance of winning.

That’s what gave Barkowitz, who had been working on political campaigns since helping with President Obama’s re-election efforts at age 16, an impenetrable sense of hope as she canvassed for Clinton in Kent that morning.

“It hasn’t even been 100 years since women have been able to have the right to vote, and now we have someone running for president,” Barkowitz said about four minutes into the film. “It’s a very powerful thing.”

As the watch party started, Barkowitz’s optimism peaked. “Honestly, she’s winning. To be completely honest, I haven’t even thought about the alternative,” she said to the camera.

As Trump’s electoral vote lead hit 228 to 207, inching closer to the 270 needed to win, a scared Barkowitz, fighting back tears, said in the film, “I feel like I’m going to throw up.” 

However, she remembers the moment that made the reality of Trump’s victory sink in for her was not an electoral vote count, but a phone call with her father.

Barkowitz said the “worst panic attack she’s ever had” was when her optimistic father told her: “It’s not looking good.”

“It was one of the worst feelings of my life, for sure.”

At 2:35 a.m., the Associated Press projected Trump as the winner.

The last shot of Barkowitz and the Brewhouse Pub crowd in the film was right after AP’s call: a bar full of politically active college students from both major political parties sitting in dumbfounded silence.

One year later

“I repressed a lot of the feelings from that day up until I saw the film,” Barkowitz said. “When I watched the trailer, I got a little bit of anxiety.”

Looking back, Barkowitz concedes some of the things she said and the expectation of a Clinton victory were either dumb or naive. She wishes she would have taken Trump more seriously and that she would have if the Republican nominee had been anyone else.

“Maybe because I had really had that mindset that entire election cycle, I really did myself in,” Barkowitz said.

After one year processing Trump’s victory, Barkowitz’s hope for a progressive America is masked by cynicism toward the political process.

“I see a lot of people funneling their money and time into these progressive (nongovernmental organizations) and these resistance organizations, and they can only do so much,” she said. “There can only be so many protests and speakers. There can only be so many phone calls.”

The senior graduating in May also changed her career goals because of the election.

“I was so sure I wanted to go into public affairs and end up in Washington or work for the people I believe in in politics,” she said.

She now sees things from a bigger perspective, and would rather work inside the federal government or for an international government like the U.N. or EU.

“I feel a lot of change comes from within, and so I like the idea of ‘resistance’ workers in the federal government (and judges) blocking things. That is making more of an effect right now.”

Hope versus pessimism 

Barkowitz said the goal in any election is always to get young people involved in the democratic process, but she is frustrated with people who feel like their efforts were for nothing.

“People felt like, ‘Oh my god, I did all this work for the campaign but that didn’t get me anywhere.”

Barkowitz said her pessimism is not just rooted in the election result. It’s about everything that came after, as Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, Senate and many state legislatures to implement policies that she fought to prevent.

“There’s more power to the people that repress other people,” she said.

Barkowitz’s pessimism for politics, her new directions emotionally and professionally and the national power struggle that continues to dominate the federal government all began one year ago on a day that forever changed America: 11/8/16.

Ben Orner is the enterprise producer for KentWired and the executive producer for TV2. He produced TV2’s live coverage of election night 2016. Contact him at [email protected]