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October 2, 2014

Obama's Run Documented in HBO's 'By the People'

by Jason Newman, posted Nov 3rd 2009 4:55PM
Putting aside ideological politics for a minute (we know it's hard, but try), the act of running for president, with 24-hour cameras and a grueling, unending schedule of handshakes, smiles and stump speeches, must wear on anyone that attempts it. With 'By the People: The Election of Barack Obama,' filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams follow then-candidate Obama from May 2006 up until election night, focusing more on the campaigning process itself than the backroom politics seen in D.A. Pennebaker's and Chris Hegedus's 1993 'The War Room,' about Bill Clinton's presidential run."Running for president is like being an astronaut. You can go in the simulator all you want but until you're orbiting in, you don't really know what it's going to be like."
-- David Axelrod, Senior Advisor to Barack Obama and former chief strategist during the 2008 election


Putting aside ideological politics for a minute (we know it's hard, but try), the act of running for president, with 24-hour cameras and a grueling, unending schedule of handshakes, smiles and stump speeches, must wear on anyone that attempts it. With 'By the People: The Election of Barack Obama,' filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams follow then-candidate Obama from May 2006 up until election night, focusing more on the campaigning process itself than the backroom politics seen in D.A. Pennebaker's and Chris Hegedus's 1993 'The War Room,' about Bill Clinton's presidential run.

Still, Rice and Sams' documentary, co-produced by Edward Norton, combines the personal (the future first lady playing with the Obamas' daughters, interviews with Obama's family in Hawaii) with the political (Obama touring Iowa in an effort to win that state's caucus) and aptly shows how difficult and long the process is is for any candidates. If you're expecting anything juicy or salacious, this isn't the place. For the most part, interviewees stick to their designated roles, though it's the brief flashes of spontaneity that bring the most life to 'By the People.' (On one conference call to volunteers, an animated David Plouffe, then Obama's campaign manager, states "We're going to clinch this nomination. Then we'll have to deal with Mitt or Rudy or Huckabee or whatever a**hole they nominate.")

Presumably, it'll be hard for viewers to divorce their opinion of the man itself with the film about him, as supporters will see this as a enduring document of an improbable run and detractors will view this as propaganda in favor of our current leader. It's doubtful that 'By the People' will change anyone's mind on the man (though that doesn't seem to be the point.) For political junkies, though, 'By the People' should serve as a fascinating document into the process of an election.

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Watch 'ICOUNT' Free: A Documentary about First Time Voters in the 2008 Election

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