National Edition

Mitt Romney Sundance film gives unprecedented access to man, family

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14 2014 3:20 p.m. MST

A scene of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the documentary "Mitt," which premieres at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Netflix/One Potato Productions

When Greg Whiteley began filming Mitt Romney's six-year quest for the presidency, the documentary filmmaker seldom had his camera trained on the candidate's family.

Like other documentarians of political campaigns, Whiteley was drawn to the intrigue of strategy meetings, filming the candidate and his advisers plotting their next move.

But, campaign strategists weren't as fascinated with Whiteley recording their every word and told him so.

"In most cases the candidate and his family are off limits. In my case it was the just the opposite. The campaign wanted nothing to do with me and the family was open," he said. "I couldn’t explain how or why I got the family to trust me to the degree that they did. But they just did and I went with it. As a result it’s great family drama."

The unusually personal political documentary "Mitt," about a candidate and his family living through the rigors of a presidential campaign, has its world premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival with eight screenings, including the festival's Salt Lake City Gala at Rose Wagner Theater on Friday.

The film will be released through Netflix on Jan. 24.

No ground rules

Romney family members are not commenting about the film, the former candidate's son Josh said. And Whiteley said the family hasn't seen the final cut, although Josh Romney did view a pre-cut version last year.

But Mitt Romney was familiar with Whiteley's work before he let the award-winning filmmaker into the private confines of family gatherings.

Romney first appeared on Whiteley's radar in early 2006 after the filmmaker got an email mentioning that then-Massachusetts Gov. Romney attended a screening in Boston of Whiteley's popular documentary "New York Doll." The film is about the late punk rocker Arthur Kane, a reformed alcoholic who converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I was intrigued by that, that the governor of Massachusetts would be interested in movie about cross dressing punk rock stars," Whiteley recalled.

When he read that Romney was considering the GOP nomination for president, Whiteley told his producer about the idea of film documenting the ventures of another Mormon — this time one running for commander in chief.

Romney turned down Whiteley's first request. But when Whiteley got word, through Romney's son Tagg, that Romney's wife Ann liked the idea, Whiteley showed up at the family's Deer Valley home on Christmas Eve 2006. It was during that holiday break that the family would discuss the pros and cons of running and decide.

"Mitt was there. He let me in and I started filming," Whiteley said.

There were no ground rules on what Whiteley could film, only an agreement that he would not release any footage until Romney was done running for president or being president.

"I thought that would be two years at the most," said Whiteley, who recalled the indications were that the family would give national politics one shot and then move on.

Instead, it turned into a six-year project documenting a close knit family doing what families do — laughing, talking, crying, praying, eating, teasing, arguing — except in the extraordinary context of two presidential races.

Trevor Groth, director of programming for Sundance, said the intimate family setting of "Mitt" is what makes it fascinating — and unprecedented in political documentaries.

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