Friday, May 3, 2013

The War Room

This film about the War Room (so christened by Hillary) of Clinton's presidential election campaign in 1992 is considered a standard setter in political films.  It was filmed 20 years ago, so it's the same age as the Hot Docs Festival, and it was honoured with Cinema Eye's 2013 Legacy Award at the Festival.

Given little access to Clinton himself, the filmmakers focused on senior campaign strategist James Carville and communications director George Stephanopoulos.  For me, Carville was clearly the dominant character in the film.  A brilliant strategist, intense partisan and fierce competitor,  Carville was responsible for the campaign's unrelenting focus on three key issues: "It's the economy, stupid", "Don't forget healthcare" and "Change vs more of the same".  He is originally introduced in the movie as the Ragin' Cajun and he certainly comes across more as a country bumpkin than a slick political operator.

Stephanopoulos, the boyish preppie with a head full of hair, was a wonderful contrast to Carville.  He was an acolyte at the altar of his heros Clinton and Carville.  His speech honouring Carville on the day before the election bespoke his incredible respect for the man.  And his boyish wonderment that Clinton actually made it and he had to start calling him Mr. President instead of Governor was totally endearing.

As always, the Q&A was as interesting as the film.  Most of the other filmmakers carved their films down from over 200 hours of shooting.  Shot in the days of real (or maybe reel) film, Pennebaker and Hegedus only had a total of 40 hours of film, and lived in mortal fear of being ousted from the war room if they didn't behave discreetly and more or less sink into the background.  I'm really glad they brought this film back to Hot Docs for today's audience to see.  It was great.

No comments: