The Obama campaign is releasing what appears from the trailer (embedded below) to be a powerful "docu-ad" — I realize that's a bizarre term, but that's what it is — directed by Davis Guggenheim. Davis is a great documentarian — “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Waiting for Superman,” “It Might Get Loud” — and a Sidwell Friends alum.
The trailer suggests that the film will lay out one of the foundational pieces of Obama's message: The president's bold actions saved the country from an even worse fate and put us on the road to recovery. It seeks to answer what happened to all that hope.
Films like these have a long history. In fact, Davis’s father, Charles, also a filmmaker, made docu-ads for Robert Kennedy and Al Gore Sr. Bob Squier, my mentor, made one for Jimmy Carter. David Sawyer did so for John Glenn, with the soaring tag line, “Believe in the future again,” and there was Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s “The Man From Hope,” about Bill Clinton.
In a world of seven-second sound bites and 30-second mostly negative ads, these kinds of films, when done by the likes of the above, can really move people. (It also doesn't hurt that these filmmakers respected or even loved their subjects). For years, the costs of television time made this form of the advertising impossible, but the web has changed that.
In 2000, Al Gore Jr.’s campaign hired the director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” “Where the Wild Things Are”) to direct a short film on the vice president. The result was powerful, a very personal look at Gore that removed some of the barriers put up over 25 years of public life. We showed the film at the convention to rave reviews, but the lack of broadband then meant that its distribution was extremely limited.
I often think that, had we had fatter Internet pipes in 2000, we could have put Spike’s Gore film into wider release and it might have made a difference. Here's hoping Davis’s film works for Obama; it looks like another hit.