Sunday, July 6, 2008

Obama - the movie

Here's an interesting story from the intersection of politics and art.

Noted documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for Al Gore with An Inconvenient Truth, is making the short biographical film that will introduce Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Denver next month.

In reporting the story, Variety managing editor Ted Johnson mentions other filmmakers who have lent their expertise to presidential candidates, including Harry Thomason, who produced The Man from Hope for Bill Clinton in 1992, and Spike Jonze, who directed Al Gore's convention film in 2000.

Johnson notes that Guggenheim's father, Charles Guggenheim, was also a documentary filmmaker, who won four Oscars, including for the tribute film Robert Kennedy Remembered, which was shown at the 1968 Democratic Convention. He won his first Oscar for 1964's Nine from Little Rock, about the effort to desegregate schools in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957.

While I found An Inconvenient Truth a bit long and repetitive, some of the visual images were quite striking. The parts where Gore is talking about his family, including about his sister's death from lung cancer and his son's near-fatal car accident, really went a long way in making him appear less stiff, more warm and fuzzy.

One especially memorable scene follows a solitary Al Gore walking through a nearly deserted airport, wheeling a suitcase behind him. It's quite an image - the lonely, tireless fighter against global warming. Of course, he wasn't really alone in that airport, but the image makes you think he was by himself. That's the magic of movies, I guess.

The political conventions are covered a lot differently than they were when I was a kid, when there was practically gavel-to-gavel coverage on the three major networks. (And there were only three back then). I especially loved watching the nominating roll call, when each state, from Alabama to Wyoming, got its moment in the spotlight: "Madame Chairwoman, the great state of Wisconsin, the land of cheese, corn and beer ..."

Now, with primetime coverage severely limited, what we get are basically carefully scripted infomercials. Guggenheim's film, and Obama's speech, will be the first extended look most Americans will have of the Democratic presidential nominee. So I'm looking forward to seeing how the filmmaker presents Obama's life story. (And if I find out who's making John McCain's film for the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in September, I'll report on that, too).

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