IOWA CITY — The caucuses are old hat for many Iowans but remain a mystery to many outsiders.
Filmmaker A.J. Schnack captures the process in his new documentary “Caucus” which he said gives outsiders a better understanding of the process and shows Iowans the important role they play in the political process.
“I don’t know how much of that you guys sort of realize that when (the candidates) land it’s all very new to them, the notion of campaigning,” he said, adding Iowa is often where candidates refine their stump speeches and learn how to interact with people. “They’re not really quite ready for prime-time, I think, when they land.”
The film follows Republican presidential hopefuls during the 2011-12 caucus season as they barnstorm Iowa jockeying for support.
Schnack is showcasing the film throughout Iowa this weekend before it premieres in two weeks in New York. The filmmaker attended a showing at Iowa City’s FilmScene on Saturday and spoke to a handful of people in the audience afterward. There is another screening today at 1 p.m. with a chance to talk with the director afterward.
The film closely follows the campaigns of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and highlights the other candidates during their moments in the spotlight. Schnack said he tried to showcase each candidate at their best, to show what it was about each candidate that attracted supporters, but also put each campaign’s experience into context.
He pointed to a scene in the film where former Texas Rep. Ron Paul hops into a van after an event but struggles to close the door.
“For me, the fact he couldn’t close the door but his son (Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul) could close the door says a lot about his campaign but also what might be happening in the future,” Schnack said.
Tim Hagle, University of Iowa political science associate professor, said the documentary showed the caucus “warts and all” and all voters will find it enjoyable.
“I think that both Republicans and Democrats can find humor in the movie but in different places,” Hagle said after the Saturday screening.
Hagle said the film demonstrates the relevancy of Iowa’s “first in the nation” status, which has been questioned in the past as a state that’s predominately white and older.
“I personally believe that having states like Iowa and New Hampshire is a good thing,” Schnack said. “The film isn’t necessarily to say that but it’s to say that this is how it begins and this is what it’s like before everyone’s paying attention.”
Tipton resident Will Valet said he appreciated the unbiased portrayal of the candidates and the process.
“It took not only the voters of Iowa seriously and didn’t take any cheap shots but it also took the candidates seriously,” said the 39-year-old director of Tipton’s Hardacre Film Festival.