Sunday, December 09, 2007

Jimmy Carter Man From Plains

Today I saw the documentary Jimmy Carter Man From Plains.

Every time I watch a documentary, I ask myself the same questions: Is the subject a worthy topic? Is the information presented in a captivating way? Did I learn something about the subject that I didn't previously know before I watched this film?

In this case, two out of three isn't bad.

Really, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is a wonderful topic. He's as kind as he is smart and as driven as he is accomplished. As the first president I have any memory of as a child, I will always be especially curious about his history and his character because it helped shape my childhood as an American.

That said, watching a two-hour collection of interviews I could've Tivo'd wasn't the best way to educate me about this Nobel prize-winning man—though I did learn a few things.

Amidst this travelogue of president Carter's book tour (for his controversial book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid), I witnessed a man who finally seems comfortable in his skin and aims to make up for lost time. He does this in his trademark gracious way by making no apologies for his well-thought-out beliefs while showing the utmost respect to each person he tries to convince.

There is an innate refreshment in a transparent politician, probably because they're so rare. Carter lives the very definition of this role, alternately arguing with a TV host who is trying to misquote him, then thinking out loud about becoming fluent in Spanish because he has a program on his computer that would enable him to.

He's also the kind of Christian that gives Christians a good name: one who believes that science can co-exist with Jesus worship and also tirelessly serves the poor (in a too-brief segment, we see him building Habitat for Humanity houses in New Orleans). One who reads the Bible aloud with his wife each night and treats his staff as equals.

We see all of this in snippets of previously aired interviews and behind-the-scenes glances as he shuffles from city to city with his Simon & Schuster handlers. But what we don't see are the effects of his work. The people who read his book and saw the Middle East conflict in a different way as a result. The policymakers who defended his view and took his ideas to their colleagues for further debate. Where are they? Do they even exist?

The filmmaker doesn't attempt to pretend whose side he's on. You will love this former president from the first frame of the movie until the credits roll because the portrayal is so endearing, you'd be evil not to.

If that was the aim of the documentary, then I say "mission accomplished," but if the viewers were supposed to leave with an enhanced knowledge of the peace process, or an expert view on the background of Carter's legacy, it failed.

While many of the moments are sweet, that's ultimately all that this documentary adds up to: a series of moments. It's the dust jacket version of the story.

Makes me want to buy the book.

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