Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains



This review was written for the festival screening of "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains."

Venice International Film Festival

VENICE, Italy -- Winning the Nobel Peace Prize does not automatically visit sainthood upon the recipient as Tom Lehrer observed while noting that satire died the day Henry Kissinger became laureate, but it looks pretty good on Jimmy Carter.

That's the problem, however, with Jonathan Demme's blandly interesting new documentary on the former president from Georgia titled "Man From Plains."

The one-term White House occupant, former peanut farmer and nuclear physicist, sincere Christian, and full-time humanitarian is such a reasonable individual that the film has trouble drumming up controversy.

Screened in the Horizons sidebar at the Venice International Film Festival, theatrical boxoffice is unlikely to be sparkling but it could do well on television and provide a lasting portrait on DVD.

The film follows Carter on a promotional tour in support of his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," which argues that Israel will not find peace until it withdraws from the occupied territories.

It's a point of view rejected by many supporters of Israel but such is Carter's standing as a result of the Camp David accord he negotiated between Egypt and Israel all those years ago that even his angriest opponents temper their response.

Demme goes on the road with the Carter team to places such as Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles and he's seen being questioned by an assortment of television presenters including Jay Leno, Charlie Rose and Larry King. There are encounters with sycophantic interviewers and challenging ones but it seldom gets heated.

He goes to picnics and book signings, attends meetings at the Carter Center, and preaches the gospel. He says he and wife Rosalynn read aloud from the Bible every night even when he's on the road by phone. The film has no narrator and there are no direct interviews. Carter is free to say what he wants and while he states there's no conflict in belief in Jesus Christ and being a scientist, he doesn't elaborate.

There are many small but interesting observational moments in the documentary and Demme covers the major issues of Carter's presidency, his current work as a world statesman, and his work building homes with Habitat in New Orleans and around the world.

Demme also reveals that whatever else he may be Carter is a consummate professional in dealing with people from all walks of life. He may not have been the most dynamic or effective president in recent history but in Demme's snapshot he certainly appears to be the most decent.

A Clinica Estetico Prod,
Director: Jonathan Demme
Producers: Jonathan Demme, Neda Armian
Executive producers: Ron Bozman, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann
Director of photography: Declan Quinn
Music: Djamel Ben Yelles, Alejandro Escovedo, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
Editor: Kate Amend
Running time -- 120 minutes
No MPAA rating