Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Circling Back to Iowa

Three years after following Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic Party hopefuls into Iowa and beyond, Australian TV journalist Rebecca Glenn was back in the Hawkeye State this past weekend for the inaugural festival screening of her documentary First Stop, Iowa!. While the reception at the Landlocked Film Festival in downtown Iowa City was extremely positive, Glenn found the mood among party rank and file to be somewhat more complex.

"I definitely sensed some disappointment and disillusionment among Democrats on the ground in Iowa," explains Glenn during an interview with FilmStew. "Not necessarily with the President himself but with the realpolitik that is 'business as usual' in Washington. I think one of Obama's gifts is also his burden. He inspired so many people who projected their hopes and dreams on to him, that anything less than a series of miracles was going to fall short of people's expectations."

Made in partnership with TV colleague John Barron, First Stop, Iowa! tracks the full 40-year arc of Democrat nominating politics, from the riots on the streets of Chicago at the 1968 convention to the election of America's first black President and victory speech on the same streets in 2008. Even more shocking to Glenn than the lingering recession, which has essentially left Australia unscathed, is the current status of one of Obama's former challengers.

A long and winding road

"We were very shocked [by the John Edwards revelations]," she confirms. "We were impressed with the campaign and his volunteers and staff were such wonderful people, I thought there must be more to him than the slick image he presents as on TV."

"To later learn of the level of deception and egotism that must be required to think you can get away with it amidst running for one of the most powerful political offices in the world was sickening," marvels Glenn. "Our hearts went out for the Edwards campaign volunteers."

When asked, Glenn agrees that the impact of Oprah Winfrey's early endorsement of Obama played a big part in the dynamics of the Iowa Caucus. Though there are no TV deals in place yet for First Stop, Iowa!, the documentary is currently available on DVD through Amazon.

More like First Stop, Oprah?

Glenn has made several short films and also won some awards for her feature-length screenplays. The latest of these, Wittenoom, seems like a golden opportunity for some enterprising production company, what with its fact-based David vs. Goliath tale of an ordinary Australian couple who took on one of Australia's biggest corporations over its negligence in dealing with its workers at a blue asbestos mine. In the meantime, the hard-working journalist hints at the possibility of a very intriguing sequel.

"John and I are currently exploring the possibility of a return to the U.S. and Iowa to make a documentary about the Republican nominating race for 2012," she teases. "It looks to be a pivotal time for the GOP as it decides what kind of a party it wants to be in the future, and a very interesting story to tell." (Barron separately wrote an acclaimed book about the 2008 Presidential campaign, Vote for Me!)

As far as the time capsule aspects of her first foray into the Caucus, Glenn suggests there is a valuable lesson for all future candidates to keep in mind. "The response at the screening was positive in part I suspect because the documentary takes a bigger picture view than any current-day partisan policy fights or 'character assassinations'. In a sense, First Stop, Iowa! reminds people of what can be - and has been - achieved by people engaged in the democratic process."

[First Stop, Iowa!.]

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