January 25, 2009


Born to the Left, Aiming Her Camera Right (ELIZABETH JENSEN, 1/25/09, NY Times)

Many documentary makers labor for years to come up with just the right topic and nuanced approach, to coax interviews and to find money. But Ms. Pelosi, 38, has led a bit of a charmed life.

“Right America: Feeling Wronged,” subtitled “Some Voices From the Campaign Trail,” will be her fifth film for HBO. Her first was “Journeys With George” (2002), a look at George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign. Her total puts her in the company of HBO’s go-to group of documentarians, like Albert Maysles, Jon Alpert, and Alan and Susan Raymond.

But that’s not the company Ms. Pelosi keeps, or particularly desires; she’s more likely to be found at a Y.M.C.A. play date with her two toddlers and her husband, Michiel Vos, a Dutch television and radio commentator.

Her contrarian streak extends to her subjects. She is the daughter of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, speaker of the House and one of the country’s most influential liberal politicans, yet she has chosen to look at aspects of American conservatism in four of her five films. Her parentage has sometimes worked against her — she was repeatedly harassed at McCain events last year — but she chooses to portray her subjects as nondidactically as possible.

The scorn she shows in her work is reserved for what she calls the news media’s inappropriate coziness with politicians, the topic of her 2005 book, “Sneaking Into the Flying Circus.” (Recently, at the request of Steve Zaillian, the screenwriter of “Schindler’s List” and “American Gangster,” she wrote the screenplay “On the Bus,” which she describes as a “a coming-of-age story about a young journalist who loses her professional virginity on the campaign trail.”) [...]

Ms. Pelosi became a filmmaker after working as a journalist. A graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and the recipient of a master’s degree in communications management from the University of Southern California, she was hired in 1995 as a low-level producer for “Dateline NBC.” She got her break in 1999 when she was assigned to follow Mr. Bush as a campaign producer.

She did the job brilliantly, said Robert Calo, a friend and former colleague who is now a senior lecturer in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. “Most people are very awed by it because they are very close to power,” he said, but she was not.

Instead of heading to the White House, the traditional track for producers when the candidates they are covering win, she quit to make “Journeys With George.” The tone of that film — a sometimes amused, sometimes appalled deconstruction of the campaign process and the journalism that accompanies it — meshed nicely with the rise of political satire in the Bush years, exemplified by “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

“She deserves some credit for shattering the respectful world of political journalism,” Mr. Calo said.

While Ms. Pelosi takes her subjects seriously, he said, “there’s a sardonic kind of humor about public institutions that she brings. Maybe it’s because she grew up in a family that is an institution.”

That last is why Journeys worked so well. Her subject, George W. Bush, viewed the press/politics relationship even more sardonically than she did and she captured the way he played the media. He, who understood their fundamental shallowness, would never have made the mistake the UR did, of thinking he could wander into the press room and just chat with someone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2009 8:50 AM
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