August 31, 2016 by Todd Lillethun
Just in time for election season, director and DP Ines Sommer is finishing a documentary about participatory budgeting titled COUNT ME IN, which is scheduled to air on PBS in late October. As a resident of Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, Sommer became intrigued by Alderman Joe Moore’s push to let residents vote on how money was spent in his district. Each ward in Chicago receives $1.3 million per year to spend on infrastructure and development, which can include everything from filling potholes to planting gardens in vacant lots. Decisions on how to spend that money has traditionally been left up to aldermen, but participatory budgeting gives residents the power to make those decisions instead. The film shows community members on the north, south, and west sides of the city driving the process in efforts to improve their neighborhoods: they write proposals, pitch their positions, and submit everything for a vote to their neighbors. It’s an empowering, but also labor intensive, and occasionally messy undertaking, and has been adopted by seven wards across the city, plus 1,500 other cities in the U.S. and Latin America. Sommer began shooting in 2013, and editor Susanne Suffredin (of the Kindling Group) was brought on last year. In 2014 the MacArthur Foundation awarded Sommer a grant to finish the film and connected the project to WTTW for distribution.