Alongside the thousands of journalists reporting on the Democratic National Convention here in Denver, teams of filmmakers have been fanning out across the city to tell stories that might otherwise be overlooked. AJ Schnack ("Kurt Cobain About a Son") has tapped a cadre of acclaimed indie filmmakers to shoot a feature doc about the convention. Meanwhile, George Hickenlooper ("The Mayor of Sunset Strip," "Hearts of Darkness") is tracking his cousin, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper, while directors Amy Rice and Alicia Sams continue making their insider documentary about Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Today, indieWIRE visited Schnack and other indie filmmakers "on set" at the convention, while also catching up with other DNC-related docs.
At about 3:30 this afternoon, inside the Denver Post's Pepsi Center HQ at the Democratic National Convention, with cameras in hand filmmakers AJ Schnack and Julia Reichert & Steven Bognar ("A Lion In the House") huddled around the paper's political team. The unit was buzzing because Barack Obama had just arrived in the city, while across town Rage Against The Machine was performing live and inside the hall the presidential candidate's name was placed into nomination with the roll call about to begin. Later, inside the convention hall, Schnack and filmmaker Paul Taylor ("We Are Together") worked the floor and followed other Post reporters.
Filmmakers Schnack, Bognar, Reichert, Taylor, Laura Poitras ("My Country, My Country"), and Daniel Junge ("They Killed Sister Dorothy") are among those trailing Post editor Curtis Hubbard and reporter Allison Sherry, Denver host committee president Elbra Wedgeworth, and Mayor Hickenlooper's staff to capture the stories behind the scenes at this year's event. The film is simply titled, "Convention."
Sitting with indieWIRE over lunch at the Starz Green Room this afternoon, AJ Schnack said he is excited about the coverage they are getting, noting that his subjects have been open and accessible, knowing that the footage won't be seen until well after the convention is over.
Schnack, who recently re-visited classic docs such as Robert Drew's "Primary" and "Crisis," said he found Drew's collaborations with Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, and D.A. Pennebaker inspiring. "It's a small homage to the old Drew and Associates," Schnack told indieWIRE today.
Currently on a break from the documentary that he and the True/False Film Festival's David Wilson have been making in Missouri this summer, Schnack enlisted Wilson and "Branson" collaborator Nate Truesdell to help him here in Denver. He is producing the film with partner Shirley Moyers, the Denver Film Society's Britta Erickson, Jenny Chikes, and Truesdell.
"It's not really a film about politicians," Schnack explained, before walking around the convention site and checking up on his collaborators just as Obama's name was placed into nomination and ratified by acclamation, "It really is a film about how a city works." Explaining that for some time he has wanted to follow "how a city deals with a major event," Schnack will edit the film himself and hopes to have it completed early next year. While not going into financing details, he said that he secured some funding from traditional and local sources and will soon be seeking finishing funds from many funders who initially questioned whether he'd get the access he promised.
"It's sort of a leap of faith on everyone's part," Schnack added, "So much of it is on the fly." But, he reitered that he got that access he hope for. And tomorrow (Thursday), Schnack and his collaborators will be at Invesco Field when all of their characters' storylines converge as Obama delivers his acceptance speech.
"We really do have these great storylines, in all these different areas of the city," Schnack continued, "There are so many different characters, people really are being open in a way that I didn't expect they would be."
While Schnack and company are following Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's staff, George Hickenlooper is tracking the man himself for what will end up a series and/or feaeture film. Produced by RJ Cutler ("The War Room"), the film is tracking the dynamic Mayor, considered one of the more progressive in the country and recently named to a Top 5 list of city heads by Time Magazine.
"It's basically going to be a doc about the day to day operations [and] how a Mayor runs a city and how he holds onto his potlical integrity and his humanity while trying to balance the thin wire of perception from both the media and the public," George Hickenlooper told indieWIRE this week.
Also shooting in Denver is Amy Rice & Alicia Sams' apparently untitled doc about Barack Obama, reportedly backed by Ed Norton. The film, being produced with Ben Goldhirsh's Reason Pictures, is understood to have begun production at least two years ago. Insiders are being tight-lipped about the project of late, particularly in the wake of a recent Sharon Waxman blog piece about the documentary and declined repeated inquiries from indieWIRE about the movie.
Norton's Class 5 Films is involved, with Endeavor partner Ari Emanuel and Andrew Hurwitz also on board, with Green Film Co. and Citi Prods., according to a March report from Variety.
"Whether he wins or not, this will be one of the most intimate records of a presidential campaign," Norton told Waxman. "I'd say with confidence there's never been as thorough a documentation of a presidential campaign from the inside."
Waxman reported yesterday that HBO is pursuing the project, but the company did not respond today to an inquiry about their intentions.