JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM PLAINS: Written, produced and directed by Jonathan Demme. Cinematography, Declan Quinn. Music, Djamel Ben Yelles and Alejandro Escovedo. Sony Pictures Classics, 2007. PG. 125 min.
Jimmy Carter Man From Plains, despite its backwards-looking title, has a very specific focus: the 83-year-old former president’s 2006 book tour to promote the controversial Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter, as we meet him in Jonathan Demme’s (Philadelphia) film, is both a casual, down-home fellow, exploring his family’s land and attending a barbecue with his neighbors in tiny Plains, Ga., and a very active figure, involved with everything from the Carter Center to promoting his book to building houses in New Orleans with Habititat for Humanity.
Demme has said that he opted to focus this film on the Palestine book tour because “there would probably be a lot of fireworks on that journey,” and indeed there are. The fireworks encompass a growing media focus on reaction to the book, an intense protest and counter-protest at a Phoenix booksigning and a speaking engagement at Brandeis University. Harvard prof Alan Dershowitz wants to debate Carter at Brandeis, and while Carter refuses, the film gives Dershowitz time to lay out his concerns and to speak about where he and Carter agree. But Man From Plains isn’t about Carter’s thoughts about Israel and Palestine so much as it’s about how he handles those who agree and disagree with him, and how he works, still, at doing what he believes is right for the world. It’s a portrait — though a narrow one — not a treatise, and what often makes the film interesting is the way it reaches across the spectrum of this unusual life. At first, Carter seems to have a simple existence, but gradually it broadens; his home with Rosalynn may seem ordinary, but the convoy of SUVs and police cars that escort him everywhere he goes is, like the man himself, anything but.
Jimmy Carter Man From Plains opens Friday, Jan. 18, at the Bijou.