Years ago, as a wedding present, dear friends took my husband and me to spend a weekend with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. It was a revelation. I had never seen our 39th President in such an informal, approachable setting and now Jonathan Demme has captured Carters sharp intelligence and homespun candor on film.
Demme followed Carter on a 2006 book tour for his controversial Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. This documentary tracks the reaction of both fans and foes, who alternately praise or challenge Carters stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly his inflammatory description of the situation as apartheid, evoking memories of government-sanctioned segregation in South Africa.
Carter courteously parries accusations of anti-Semitism with interviewers on Good Morning America, Fresh Air, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, and The Tavis Smiley Show. While Charlie Rose gets particularly testy, Jay Leno adds levity. Not surprisingly, what infuriates Carter most is negativity from people who havent even bothered to read his book.
In addition to presenting a chronicle of Certers reactions to the media and outspoken Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, Demme also utilizes fascinating archival material, particularly when Carter brokered the Camp David Peace Accords between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin in 1978. Plus there are glimpses of Carters evangelical Christian home life in Georgia, including daily Bible readings with Rosalynn.
In many ways, Man From Plains resembles The Agronomist, Demmes documentary about the slain Haitian activist Jean Dominique, and Declan Quinns digital video camera concentrates far more on the man more than the imagery. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains is an insightful 8, exploring the kind of impact a former President can have after leaving the Oval Office.