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Shortly after the release of former president Jimmy Carter’s latest and most controversial book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in November 2006, Carter set out on a book tour to promote the publication and also to talk about the subject matter, which involves bringing an end to the violence and segregation that is happening in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Following him on this tour, and filming his every step like a fly on the wall, is acclaimed director Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense, The Silence of the Lambs) who not only takes in Jimmy Carter, but all the media and public attention that erupts in reaction to the provocative material.
Unless one has a detailed understanding of the continuing conflicts between Israel and Palestine, Jimmy Carter’s message is difficult to fully comprehend and the very specific details are hard to grasp. There is no doubt that Carter believes he is coming from a good place, and his message throughout the film of peace is admirable. It is obvious in his many interviews that are shown throughout the film and in his conversations as he tries to get his viewpoint across that Carter is extremely knowledgeable of the subject matter, but is quick to denounce any of his detractors as simply not having read the book or understanding what he is saying.
While Carter has a hard-lined and distinct message to sell, Demme tries to bring a much more balanced view to the documentary, and attempts to provide equal soapbox time for those that are in favor of what Carter is doing and those that feel he is doing more harm than good. Both sides are equally passionate about their viewpoints, and neither seems willing to budge first. This back and forth stalemate between who is right and wrong, who is to blame for the continued violence, and who rightfully deserves specific land culminates in a heartbreaking protest during one of Carter’s book signings as both sides gather in street spitting hateful remarks and chanting rallying cries at each other.
Stepping back from the focus on Jimmy Carter’s campaign for peace in the Middle East, which is an extremely divisive issue amongst those who are fully educated in the matter and even more so for those that are not, you’ll see almost a completely separate documentary playing at the same time. Here, Demme’s subject matter is the media and all those that work behind-the-scenes to make interviews and appearances seem so fluid and flawless. Here, Carter’s message is important only in the fact that he has something to say, but it does not matter what he is saying.
For those that are media savvy or die-hard television and radio news junkies, the meat of this documentary lies with Demme as he brings the camera into a behind-the-scenes world that few get to see. Seeing what it takes to get a broadcast interview up and running, from the pre-preparation by both interviewee and the interviewer, to what will actually be seen on the air, and then the discussions afterward really is fascinating. What is also eye-opening is to see the mind-boggling repetition in the questions the interviewers ask, and conversely, the repetition in Carter’s answers. Demme isn’t just content with standing in the corner to watch either, as he gets inside the control room and behind the radio microphone.
Jonathan Demme bookends his documentary with a look at Jimmy Carter himself and creates a modern day profile of the 39th President of The Unites States. Footage at the beginning is focused on showing the humble day-to-day life of Carter and a look at the farm in Plains, GA where he grew up. The film’s credits roll over an extensive array of footage from Jimmy Carter’s life during his presidency and his current work with Habitat For Humanity. While some may argue with his ways of proposing peace or his policies of the past, it is hard to resist his steadfast determination in making the world a better place to live.
Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains is presented with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. English and French subtitles are also included.
Audio Commentary – Director Jonathan Demme and producer Neda Armian provide insightful comments that add a greater depth and understanding to their film.
Bonus Scenes – Ten additional scenes that did not make the final cut of the film are collected here.
The Music Sessions – The soundtrack for the film was recorded over three lively and invigorating days of world music fusion that perfectly reflected the worldview of Jimmy Carter. This thirty minute segment chronicles the creation and evolution of that soundtrack.
Packaging – The DVD is proudly housed in a sturdy cardboard sleeve that is made from 100% post-consumer recycled fiber paper.
Jonathan Demme’s film, through Jimmy Carter, asks some very tough questions and opens up dialogue that needs to find answers. Those answers may not have been uncovered just yet, but the underlying hope of peaceful discussion has been laid down, and we all need to be listening.
Sony Pictures Classics presents Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Starring Jimmy Carter. Written by Jonathan Demme. Running time: 126 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: March 25, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.