Released on DVD last week by the Criterion Collection: THE WAR ROOM
Legendary Direct Cinema filmmakers Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker premiered their film at Toronto in 1993. It later went on to screen at the New York Film Festival and Berlin, among others, and enjoyed a limited theatrical release. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary the following year.
Embracing the still largely pre-Internet media in a way unlike any previous Presidential candidate, then Governor Bill Clinton gave permission for Hegedus and Pennebaker to film the goings-on at this campaign center in Little Rock AR, the source for their film’s title. While Clinton is occasionally on-camera, the real stars of the doc are lead campaign strategist James Carville and communications director George Stephanopoulos, the masterminds behind Clinton’s 1992 win over incumbent President George HW Bush. Embedded, the filmmakers follow these two men from the New Hampshire Democratic primary through the November election, hitting highlights along the way, including the Gennifer Flowers tabloid scandal, the emergence of Ross Perot as a contender, and dramatic shifts in opinion polls that left the outcome of the campaign in question. Nearly twenty years later, the film remains absolutely compelling, and its infectiously likable subjects as they steer Clinton’s ship to the White House. It’s a remarkable achievement, placing the machinery of election campaigning under scrutiny in a clear manner, from media spinning to speechwriting to analysis of even the most seemingly inconsequential items like the kind of lettering to feature on campaign signs – and all of it always compulsively watchable. This doc set the standard for all campaign docs that have followed, and it’s still the best.