MORONI FOR PRESIDENT is a documentary driven by the strength of its subjects, offering a rare and vital insight into the Navajo community and the power structures that govern it.
We join Moroni Benally in his journey for political revolution at a procession of floats, where the more moneyed political entities inundate audiences with candy thrown into the crowd. Moroni however walks alone and unembellished, trying to rally audiences instead with political theory. As a Professor by trade, Moroni serves as a useful vehicle to guide audiences through a brief history of the Navajo nation and current climate, the Navajo Government and its origins as a legal loophole to allow the US to buy and sell land for oil. Money as a corruptive force is a recurring motif, perverting the relationship between elected politicians and the people, with Moroni pinned as something of an underdog against the flashy Old Guard counterparts.
MORONI FOR PRESIDENT does a good job of introducing the audience to Navajo tradition, Mormonism, contradictory attitudes toward the LGBT population, colonisation of indigenous people and the Navajo political system and its mechanisms. One criticism of the narrative is the treatment of sole female candidate Carrie Lynn Martin, who is mentioned and briefly observed on camera, but not spoken with directly. Here MORONI FOR PRESIDENT lets audiences down, by illuminating the dangerous sexism within the Navajo political system (one which cites women running for President as a harbinger of some kind of gendered apocalypse) but electing to qualify this with male opinions. This includes President Ben Shelley citing that women are less capable of political leadership and ‘built to be more family-orientated’, ultimately failing to give the one female candidate a voice of her own. Regarding the film’s protagonists, however, a mixture of footage including quiet details, interviews and general reportage are utilised to offer intimate access to the lives of three men who each stand to represent opposing political parties. Interactions with the camera largely feel naturalistic and genuine, exemplifying the level of trust between film-maker and subject, and as an audience we begin to feel close to all three of these individuals, learning about them as people and not just the politics they represent.
MORONI FOR PRESIDENT offers an ambitious snapshot, covering a huge amount of ground that requires persistent scene-setting to really hit home. There’s a lot to unpack, and as an audience, we never quite get the chance to really enjoy what is presented. Perhaps, like the politicians it seeks to expose, the narrative here meanders a little, and in trying to accommodate everything can at times falls a little flat. Visually MORONI FOR PRESIDENT can also feel a little repetitive, but the soaring wide shots of red dust and desert don’t fail to captivate. The documentary format is also lifted by occasionally jarring musical interludes, making for a refreshingly unconventional soundtrack.
Overall, by establishing a real relationship with its sitters, revealed to be affectingly sincere and at times delightfully funny, MORONI FOR PRESIDENT manages to achieve something sorely needed in current global politics – a little humanity. And dare I say it, a little hope.