Country: United States
Director: Frank Popper
Topic: Part-time college professor Jeff Smith enters politics and runs a grassroots campaign for Congress, facing the scion of Missouri’s Democratic dynasty and other seasoned politicians.
Shooting format: DV cam.
Why it stands out: Scrappy, conventionally structured docu trails the highly articulate and charismatic underdog candidate who literally knocks on doors and calls voters personally to raise awareness for his campaign. Smith’s idealism sparkles and energizes the film and auds.
Memorable scene: Emotion plays across candidate Smith’s face as he learns St. Louis’ major African-American newspaper will back the opposition in spite of his years of service to the city’s black community. Drama comes from the sense of betrayal and highlights the film’s core issue of America’s flawed election process.
Distribution status: A dozen-plus city theatrical run is currently in progress via L.A.-based At Risk Films. It’s taken in about $40,000 to date. The film is also skedded for “Independent Lens” broadcast on PBS in February.
On the making of the film: After spending a year searching for some subject matter, first-time helmer Popper met neophyte candidate Smith by chance at a book signing. “He was working the crowd,” Popper recalls. “Our conversation was a total of 25 to 30 seconds, and I sat down and said to the woman next to me, ‘I think I’m going to make a documentary on this guy.’ It was as simple as that.” Popper was the solo shooter/ soundman as he tracked the candidate for four months prior to the election. “If I didn’t show up, I missed good stuff, so I tried to stay with him as much as I could.”