Mitt Romney Sundance film gives unprecedented access to man, family
"So much of life is connected to family and the experiences of dealing with family are so inherently dramatic," Groth said. "I think artists tap into that, they get inspiration from that and I think they find truth in telling those stories."
Throughout the 2012 presidential race, supporters of Mitt Romney constantly complained that the public didn't really know the man behind his too-good-to-be-true polished appearance and model family.
Pundits chimed in that the campaign could build trust and admiration among voters by talking more about the faith and family of the multi-millionaire Mormon and Republican nominee.
Romney friend Mike Leavitt — who won three terms as governor of Utah and served in President George W. Bush's cabinet before becoming a top adviser to the Romney campaign — explained the public is often caught in the middle of a process where candidates try to define their opponents.
"It's impossible to get to know a political figure in the context of a campaign," said Leavitt, who recalled seeing Whiteley on the campaign bus. "People are deliberately trying to define (opposing candidates) in ways that are negative and almost always exaggerated."
Whiteley is reflective about the feedback from those who have viewed the film, particularly from those who seemed surprised to see Romney doing mundane things, like picking up trash.
"The reaction to it reveals how we look at presidential candidates," Whiteley said. "I don’t think we look at them as real people. The process ... prevents the general public from treating people authentically and seeing them as human beings."
Whiteley doesn't know whether what he witnessed in the homes, hotel rooms, buses, airplanes and other places the Romneys gathered would have effectively countered the image of a cold-hearted businessman and flip-flopping politician portrayed by Romney's Democratic as well as GOP opponents if his documentary had been released during the campaign.
"Knowing the political ramifications of the footage I have is way beyond my paygrade," he said. But, Whiteley noted that in the hundreds of hours of film he has of the candidate and his family he captured more of Romney's decency and humility than the public saw — even with the campaign's efforts to project a positive image of Mitt.
"The problem is every presidential campaign is pushing the story of what a great guy the candidate is, so the people go, 'Yeah right, we’ve heard that before,'" he said. "But in the case of Mitt Romney, that’s actually true."
Fly on the wall
Whiteley said the documentary has no narration or background music and carries no message or moral.
"We don’t answer a lot of questions," he said. "We just place you as a fly on the wall and you get a perspective of what it is like to be a presidential candidate that I think is unprecedented."
Whiteley hopes viewers will feel the same exhilaration he did documenting the emotional roller coaster of winning and losing primaries, accepting the GOP nomination, assessing debate performances and coming to terms with losing on election night 2012.
He recalls in particular the thrill he felt filming the Romney clan in the privacy of their hotel room on election night.
"How many people were wondering about what I am seeing with my own two eyes," he recalled thinking at that moment and throughout the editing process of the film. "I kept remembering how I felt on election night and how do I build to that moment. ... I want the audience to have that same feeling I did."
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