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List: Election Documentaries

posted by Nell Minow

In honor of one of the most exciting elections in American history, here is a list of ten classic documentaries about elections and politics.

1. Primary This pioneering political documentary from Robert Drew, the first in a trilogy, shows candidate John F. Kennedy running against Hubert Humphrey in the Wisconsin primary in 1960. Elbert Ventura wrote in Slate:

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Stacked up against today’s documentaries, which tend toward overweening subjectivity and strident polemics, Drew’s movies seem like relics. Here, it seems, was the first gaze–the audience granted an intimate glimpse of their leaders, the subjects not yet trained to play to the cameras. Ironically, Drew’s innovations would end up killing the very spontaneity he captured. The ubiquity of portable cameras, whose development Drew helped speed along, would eventually usher in the era of media-trained politicians.

2. The War Room “It’s the economy, stupid,” was the mantra of campaign specialists James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as they and their colleagues took a young Governor from Arkansas to the White House.

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3. Our Brand Is Crisis Carville attempted to export his skill at marketing candidates to Bolivia and the result is a tale of American hubris — soon to be remade as a feature film starring George Clooney.

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4. A Perfect Candidate Two very high profile Virginia candidates for the Senate, former Governor (and Lyndon Johnson son-in-law) Charles Robb and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North compete for votes in 1994 in one of the state’s most tumultuous elections.

5. Journeys With George The daughter of the first woman Speaker of the House made this up-close-and-very-personal documentary about the campaign of George W. Bush that is as much about the way media covers the candidate as about the candidate himself.

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6. Anytown, USA Candidates for mayor of Bogota, New Jersey — two legally blind, one ill, in a race that proves that not only is all politics local politics but that local politics are just as brutal and unpredictable as national elections.

7. See How They Run Even by San Francisco standards, this race is a wild one. The ever-popular wheeler-dealer Willie Brown is challenged by a baker’s dozen of colorful characters.

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8. The Delegate Most documentaries focus on the candidates, their top aides, or the press. This one looks at a 21-year-old delegate to the GOP convention.

9. Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story The late former Chairman of the Republican National Committee who engineered Ronald Reagan’s election is profiled in this current theatrical release.

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10. Unprecedented – The 2000 Presidential Election Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the viewers on a journey through the turbulent 2000 election with stops at the Republican and Democratic conventions and conversations with activists from all sides.

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