08/23/2012 11:15 am ET Updated Oct 23, 2012

Politics Post-9/11: "The After Party" Exposes Civil Liberties Crisis on the Campaign Trail (WATCH)

Post by Anthony Kaufman

"Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one." - Thomas Jefferson

Whether liberal or libertarian, ACLU or NRA, OWS or Tea Party, both ends of the political spectrum surprisingly agree on one thing: No one likes to be spied on.

In "The After Party" (Live screening tonight 7PM EST on SnagFilms) -- the third in a trilogy of political docs about presidential politics that began with 1992's "The Last Party," starring Robert Downey, Jr and continued with 2000's "The Party's Over," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman -- the comedic antics of the campaign trail and the intricacies of party conventions have given way to a serious inquiry into the dire state of Americans' civil liberties.

Set during the 2004 Presidential Election, when protesters were treated like animals and criminals at both the Democratic Convention in Boston and, most heinously, at the Republican Convention in New York City, "The After Party" focuses specifically on the travails of Michael I. Schiller, a cinematographer on the project, who was arrested at Ground Zero while recording a demonstration by the War Resistors League.

Originally, "The After Party" was an entirely different documentary. Like its predecessors, it featured a central personality, OutKast musician Andre 3000, a neophyte traipsing along the campaign trail and receiving a political education--here from the likes of scholar Cornel West and the Bush daughters (the latter of whom discuss their favorite food: "beans!").

While such lighthearted clips are included in the current film, "The After Party" aims for a larger examination of not so much politics as the place of dissent in the face of overwhelming government surveillance. The story pivots around Schiller's lawsuit against the City of New York for his wrongful arrest.

Schiller, wielding around his camera and addressing the paranoia that comes along with such current "Big Brother" realities, couldn't have known just a few years later that Democratic President Barack Obama, who appears briefly in the film talking to Andre 3000, would be criticized for a secret "Kill List" targeted assassination program that apparently exists beyond public oversight and the larger debate that continues to heat up about the use of Spy Drones over American soil.

Neither President Obama, nor GOP candidate Mitt Romney have shown any misgivings about the government's continued encroachment on Americans' privacy, secret surveillance programs, or any number of military-sanctioned actions created in the name of "security" that squelch individual freedoms. In fact, Romney has praised the Obama administration's willingness to use drones, and like the current president, Romney has said he would order the killing of U.S. citizens overseas if it was clear they were plotting attacks against the U.S. What happened to the right to a fair trail?

Schiller's lawsuit against the City of New York, which was joined by the New York Times and adjudicated in 2007, ended up in their favor: Hundreds of previously designated "confidential" documents were released, which pointed to widespread warrantless spying operations run by NYPD's "R.N.C. Intelligence Squad" (all over the U.S. and even Europe).

While the lawsuit may have exposed how authorities are overreaching their legal bounds, it's unlikely that this year's political conventions will be any different. At this year's GOP convention in Tampa, Florida, for example, local officials have set up security cameras throughout the city, set aside 1,700 beds at the local jail, created a video court system for hearings, and called in 48 police officers on horseback outfitted with riot gear to patrol the event, according to reports.

Paul Sector, a University of South Florida professor of organizational psychology, told the Tampa Bay Times that the ubiquity of cameras--both protestor-held and government sanctioned--may actually hold people more responsible for their actions. "It keeps the honest, honest," he said.

Let's hope so.

Anthony Kaufman is a film journalist and critic, who has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Village Voice and Slate, and contributes regularly to Variety, indieWIRE, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Utne Reader.

The After Party" is premiering on SnagFilms Thursday, August 23rd at 7 PM ET/4 PM PT, as a "Snag Social Screening" special event Viewers will be able to participate in a live post-screening Q&A session with director Michael Schiller and Kelly DeVine, artistic director of the Global Peace Film Fest.

"The After Party" is one of 100 films available on SnagFilms new "Snag the Vote 2012" election hub. "Snag the Vote" is a free online film festival featuring 100 documentaries covering ten key issues for this year's Presidential election. With these independent films online, Americans can "view before they vote" and become more informed and engaged before Election Day. Visit the site at