Arts & Events
Jimmy Carter is more active in his 80s than I was at any time during my 20s. If that’s an exaggeration it’s not much of one. The man’s zest for life is well known, but it is still awe-inspiring to see. In addition to his work with Habitat for Humanity and the Carter Center and a writing career that results in a book per year, the man somehow manages to find time to paint, preach, hike, bicycle and travel the world.
And that seems to be at least one of the points director Jonathan Demme is trying to make with his new film, Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains, opening today (Friday) at Shattuck Cinemas.
The film follows Carter during his 2006 book tour after the publication of his best-selling book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Demme and his crew tracked Carter across the country as he answered myriad questions on countless radio and television shows, defending his positions and clarifying his arguments in the face of a storm of controversy. Usually the debate in these appearances centers on the title of the book, since that is as far as most of these media types, and, it seems, many of Carter’s critics, have read. The result, as so often happens in discussions of the Middle East, is a debate that can quickly degenerate into name-calling and deeper entrenchment into opposing camps. Throughout the film Carter is seen struggling to keep honest debate alive, never allowing himself the luxury of the tactics chosen by many of his critics.
Demme too has problems with his title, for one might easily get the impression that the film will provide an overview of Carter’s life and career, or at least his post-presidency career. Nothing doing. The film might well have been titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid — The Movie. If you subscribe to the Hemingwayesque notion that a man is best defined by his performance under pressure, the film does indeed provide something of a portrait of the man, with plenty of evidence of his honesty, his optimism, his sincerity and his mettle. And though it touches on the depth and range of Carter’s work, with side trips to Habitat for Humanity projects in New Orleans and to meetings of the Carter Center board, the film consists primarily of countless scenes of media interviews and behind-the-scenes chatter in transit to and from those interviews. Most of it is fun and fascinating, but some of it is simply repetitive, and at 126 minutes, the film drags a bit, with Demme at times losing sight of any larger purpose for the production.
Still, it is instructive and inspiring to see Carter in action, still working for a better world at a time when most of his fellow former presidents were content to while away the hours on a golf course.
MAN FROM PLAINS
Directed by Jonathan Demme. 126 minutes.
Playing at Shattuck Cinemas.