Texas Politics, a Right Wing Conspiracy, and Karl Rove Stir SXSW Crowds
by Eugene Hernandez
A U.S. Congress person who recently watched Harry Thomason & Nikolas Perry‘s “The Hunting of the President” told noted TV producer Thomason that he must have a death wish for making a film so critical of so many within the political establishment. In relating the story here at SXSW in Austin, Thomason weighed in on an equally incisive documentary. “These guys from ‘Bush’s Brain’ must want to die more than I do,” he quipped, reacting to the doc about presidential advisor Karl Rove that premiered here at SXSW this weekend. Michael Paradies Shoob & Joseph Mealey‘s “Brain,” Thomason & Perry’s “Hunting” and Paul Stekler‘s “Last Man Standing,” which had its world premiere on Sunday, are among a spate of political docs that have drawn large crowds and have people buzzing in the Texas capital.
Its just minutes before the polls close on Election Day in 2002 as adversaries for a spot in the Texas legislature Rick Green and Patrick Rose pace in a quiet parking lot outside a polling location. Each is carrying a sign promoting their candidacy and its clear from their interaction that it has been a hard fought race. This is where Stekler’s captivating look at politics and campaigning begins. But before we find out who wins the race, we are taken back a few months to learn more about what would become a cutthroat battle for the right to represent an important district in the heart of Texas — a sector that includes the hometown of favorite son LBJ.
“Politics, like the country, is never static,” notes Stekler in one of his many comments that expertly guide the film. Could the outcome in this race give an indication of the future of Texas, a state that was once Democratic but has of late swung to the Republicans? In the race, Rick Green (“Green like money,” as he often tells would-be voters) is facing a challenge from a fresh-faced, inexperienced twenty something named Patrick Rose (one woman Rose meets on the stump exclaims, “You are a fine looking motherfucker!”). Stekler contrasts the small town, face to face campaigning with the big money battle for the Governor’s mansion taking place between Rick Perry and Tony Sanchez. He weaves together verite shots from inside the campaigns with interview footage that includes comments from the aforementioned Karl Rove, former Texas Governor Anne Richards, columnist Molly Ivins and other observers.
“What has happened to political reporting over the years is that we have become so fascinated with the process,” explained Ivins on Sunday, commenting on mainstream news media coverage of political campaigns on television during a panel discussion at the SXSW Film Conference dubbed “Film Politics As Usual.” She was joined on the dais by directors Ron Mann (“Go Further”) and Shola Lynch (“Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed”), Harry Thomason, Rob Corddry from “The Daily Show,” a pair of folks from MoveOn.org, and moderator Stekler. The way that the media, namely the news networks, cover campaigns today dampens interest in the issues and the election, Ivins added. They just spend too much time on the electoral process and not enough time on the issues or exploring the candidates with depth, panelists agreed.
“Bush’s Brain,” based on the book of the same name by James Moore and Wayne Slater, explores the rise of Karl Rove from Texas campaign insider to top advisor in the White House. One observer even calls him a co-president of the United States. Media outlets, and even top Republicans, are afraid to cross Rove, the film and the filmmakers maintain, for fear of losing vital access. The movie is one that vocal fans in the auditorium said they are hoping will find a wider audience.
“The challenge is to bring people to politics,” explained Shola Lynch during the politics panel, “(Film) can draw people to a subject.” Mann noted that work like his own, which looks more at culture, is motivated by “agitprop filmmaking.” He explained, “I wanted to create a tool that activists could use.”
Thomason & Perry’s “The Hunting of the President” is one film that will target activists. During the SXSW politics panel, Thomason indicated that he is courting groups like Rock The Vote and MoveOn.org to promote the release on a grassroots level, but it doesn’t end there.
“Our object is to get as many people to see the movie as possible,” explained Thomason, adding that he and Regent have secured financing from Fox to underwrite a release of the movie. Reached Monday, Regent Releasing president of distribution John Lambert told indieWIRE that the movie will open on June 11th at the Angelika Film Center in New York, followed shortly thereafter with debuts in Washington D.C., Boston, Little Rock, and Los Angeles. Lambert explained that Fox is on board to handle the film’s ancillary and video rights.
In the film, based on the book of the same name by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason, the filmmakers present evidence of a long-term campaign, in Arkansas and D.C., aimed at undermining former President Bill Clinton.
“The culprit in our film turns out to be the press,” explained Thomason, “They have no courage — It’s easy to talk about the horse race, its tough to do good reporting.”