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Sundance 2013: Dick Cheney in New Doc: 'If You Want to Be Loved, Go Be a Movie Star'

"The World According to Dick Cheney," which premiered at the MARC on Friday, offers a look at the politician's four decades of public service.

The World According to Dick Cheney
"The World According to Dick Cheney"

Early on in the documentary The World According to Dick Cheney, the former vice president makes it clear that he won't be apologizing for any of the controversies that clouded his four-decade political career.

“If you want to be loved, go be a movie star,” Cheney says, the first of several times he indicates that he believes the tough, sometimes politically damaging choices he made throughout his career were in the best interest of the country he served.

Directors R. J. Cutler and Greg Finton begin the film with a biographical section that explores Cheney's early years -- meeting eventual wife Lynne in high school, flunking out of Yale University and being arrested for driving while intoxicated twice within a span of nine months in 1962 and 1963. Some of the revelations -- particularly those about Cheney's troubles with the law -- drew some laughter from the crowd in the 525-seat MARC theater. But the film is not meant to be a takedown of Cheney, Cutler said during the post-screening Q&A.

“This film is not intended to put vice president Cheney on trial,” Cutler said. “Obviously, this film examines what we believe is arguably the most influential non-presidential political figure this country has ever known.”

The documentary was financed by Showtime and will air on the pay cable network on March 15.  

Most of the film is centered on Cheney's political career, which began in earnest when Donald Rumsfeld, then director of the Office of Economic Opportunity under President Richard Nixon, hired him in 1969. Cheney and Rumsfeld, who is featured throughout the documentary, would become best friends and work closely in President George W. Bush's administration. 

Those eight Bush years make up the heart of the film, which largely relies on Cheney, his associates and journalists like Bob Woodward to tell the story. Because Cheney was involved either directly or indirectly in so many political controversies from this era, there is no shortage of material. Topics covered include Cheney's response to 9/11, the Iraq War, the Valerie Plame/CIA scandal, warrantless surveillance of Americans and the creation of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, among others.

Cheney shows no contrition, summing up his career at the end of the film with a line that made some in the audience snicker: “If I had to do it over again I'd do it in a minute.”

One attendee took issue with the filmmakers' choices, saying during the post-screening Q&A that he felt the directors didn't go far enough in exposing Cheney for being a “sociopath” who was willing to lie to achieve his political goals.

“People are going to have a wide range of reactions to him and to the film,” Cutler said. “I do think the question of conviction that you are hitting upon is certainly central to what this film is about. ... When is conviction something else? When does it go to demagoguery?”

The filmmakers have screened the documentary for Cheney but wouldn't characterize his reaction to it. “It was a fascinating experience," said Cutler, who produced the 1993 documentary The War Room, which examined Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. “I am not going to speak on his behalf -- him being the former vice president.”

Cutler also noted that there was material left on the cutting room floor, including a detailing of Cheney's attempt to get then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to sign off on warrantless wiretapping while he was laid up in the hospital. The project also does not delve into Cheney's personal life beyond his early years in Wyoming. There is no mention, for example, of his daughter Mary, who is a lesbian and has been credited with convincing Cheney to support same-sex marriage. (Nor is there any mention of the 2006 hunting accident in which Cheney shot friend Harry Whittington; and there is only a brief segment on Cheney's time at Halliburton.)

“There is a four-hour version of this movie that's really good,” Cutler said. “You make choices. We interviewed every member of his family. Again, they were generous with their time. But it's just an example of the filmmaking process. This story is not about his family. This story is about his career and political life.”

Cutler, who made the 2009 Sundance documentary The September Issue (about Vogue magazine), first approached Cheney about the project in August 2011. Cheney didn't meet with the filmmakers until March 2012. “Shortly thereafter, he agreed to participate,” Cutler said, adding that there were no preconditions to the interview. “There were no parameters established.”

Cutler and Francis Gasparini produced The World According to Dick CheneyRyan Gallagher and Trevor Smith were co-producers.

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller