By the People: The Election of Barack Obama (2009) Poster

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Saw a preview of this documentary...
PauldeRev9 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I saw a limited preview screening of this in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Theater on August 8, 2009. This doc will air on HBO in November.

And it was absolutely killer. HBO Documentaries does it again. They're a brand I can shop by: Taxi to the Dark Side, The Agronomist, Born Into Brothels, etc. All great documentaries.

"By the People" is no exception. It's an intimate look into Barack Obama's brain trust and his key organizing generals on the ground. It captures intense, emotional, historical moments with strange moods outside fluorescent-lit hallways inside rooms you'd give your left arm to be a fly on the wall in. Then, of course, the camera goes into those rooms. But it only gives you a taste.

In that sense, it leaves you wanting more. One can only imagine the amount of great footage they had leave on the cutting room floor. Hopefully, after this doc airs and the DVD is released, we'll get to see some of those deleted scenes.

In the movie, here are some things you get to see you never would otherwise: Robert Gibbs' adorable little son, David Alexrod yo-yo'ing from an Obama-like calm to very Jew-neurotic about exit polls and Obama shedding a tear or two during a speech the day his grandmother dies and one day before his eventual election. Very touching. You also get to hear his grandmother (audio only) talk about Obama as a boy (a first ever, or at least for me) over shots of some rarely-before-seen family pictures.

You get a wonderful, natural insight into how Obama's wife and kids act together as a family. How well-spoken and adult-sounding Malia, about 9 or 10 at the time, is. The distant look in her eyes when she says she wishes she could see her dad more during the campaign. You get to see how truly fierce in will and personality Michelle is. How much charismatic, black Chicago machismo swagger Obama gains when he's off-stage.

If this all seems a little too intimate and personal, you may be right. But so instrumental to Obama's likability and popularity as a candidate at the time was his narrative and his character. A campaign as modern and media-savvy as this one doesn't just let this one slip by them, uncomfortably. They wanted this. Or at very least they allowed it.

It will inevitably be compared to "The War Room," an ultimately surface-skimming and unsatisfying exposee into how Bill Clinton won the 1992 election, directed by D.A. Pennebaker, a documentarian of legend. But where "The War Room" was sensationalist, "By the People" is tense and emotional. And also matter of fact. It creates a mostly chronological and fairly complete time line of Obama's experience from the 2006 take back of the House by the Democrats to election night, about two years altogether.

The instances of the familiarity this bred between the filmmakers and the campaign staff is best demonstrated when, near the end of the campaign, Obama smiles broadly and waves to the camera like he's actually glad to see them. Like he's relieved, almost.

In one telling moment, he seems mildly surprised the documentary's camera crew made it to the New Hampshire primary after his victorious Iowa caucus, since the media blitz around his campaign grew exponentially.

Obama says something like "You guys stuck around," smiling a politician's smile. And his communications director Robert Gibbs says, "That's because their movie's about to get better." He had no idea.
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pcadry2 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Regardless of your political views, this documentary is awesome. Being a moderate in today's politics seems eerie. It seems as if you have to be part of the "fringe" or you don't "fit in". Anyway, The film takes you on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs of the campaign (mostly up).

I wasn't a particular fan of the President but still voted for him because he seemed to convey the hope that we can come together after the previous disastrous administration. Very little of this mans charisma comes through in the film though,which was a disappointment.

Overall the film is entertaining for anyone interested in politics or the President himself. He could be one of our greatest if given the chance and the hard right will work with him.

I would have rated this film higher,albeit not enough about the Presidents essence and demeanor.
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not much new on the road to the White House
dromasca17 November 2009
The HBO documentary was broadcast here one day after its US premiere and one year after Election Day which brought Obama to the White House. There was certainly inspiration and and an amount of risk taken by HBO to put a whole team to follow Obama's campaign starting with 2006, as his election was not really in the cards from the start. This is maybe one of the reasons for which I expected more from this documentary than I really received.

We do see the team since it's start, and actually we see more of the team then of Obama himself. We are introduced to some of the key participants in the campaign, all true believers, all deeply involved not only at the political and professional but also at the personal level. We see the crowds gathering, especially on the Democratic side, and on Obama's side within the Democratic Party - and the film does not try to keep any balance on reporting and does not show too many articulated opinions of the other camps. The arguments are most of the time emotional rather than rational, rhetoric rather than analytical. It's the story of the campaign, well told and well filmed, in chronological order - it happens under our eyes, and it is assumed that we know why it happened. Maybe in the future the documentary value of this story telling will increase, right now it's too new for us to have forgotten it already.

There are no big surprises, no real scoops for people trying to learn more about the secret of Obama's victory. I expected some more information about the well conducted campaign on the Internet, or about the efficient money raising which was a key part in the success - there is no mention about this. There is also almost no mention about the international dimension of the campaign, or how the big policies issues were answered by Obama and what differentiated it relative to the other candidates on the Democratic and Republican side, leading eventually to victory. The film addresses more the emotional side, whoever looks for extended information or deep analysis will not find it here. The best moments are those in which we get a glimpse of the human dimension of the Obama family, or of the people who were involved in the campaign. For some viewers this may be enough, for other not. Depending upon the expectations 'By the People' can be satisfying or disappointing to the same extent.
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Great insight (may contain spoilers)
lallaisdownnotout2725 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This documentary was thought provoking and had great insight into a process most of us only get to see from the outside.

I loved seeing the emotional aspect of a campaign, most of the time you only see the "campaign face" of the people who are running and the staff behind them. I thought it was great to see the interaction of Obama's family, including his sisters. This movie showed how hard they worked and the impact it leaves on their whole lives; sleep deprivation, long hard hours for years, families that get put on hold, and relationships that are formed. Seeing the road to victory behind the scenes was great and seeing Obama's candid reactions to wins, losses, family, and various topics brought that human quality to him.

I wish they could have shown more, though as you will see in the movie, if you watch the extras, they had a very hard time getting access throughout the years of filming, so what they did wind up with was a bunch of amazing clips that were cut short and left you wanting to see more. I understand that it was about Obama's election, but it would have helped (especially future generations) to see how other candidates won and lost, if only a few explanations here and there, not a main focus. Since I followed this election enthusiastically I can see the ups and downs in my mind, but after a few years and other generations come, people will be wondering; What the heck happened? How did he defeat McCain? In a way I wish we could have seen a little more negativity instead of just people being nice, everyone knows there is infighting and way more drama then just tears in a campaign. I felt that was a crucial missing part and left out big gaps.

Overall this was a great documentary, especially since you get to see it from before he even put his name in the hat to run. They saw something in this man and early on (even earlier then they got to film and got approval) and followed this historic election all the way to the White House. Watch the special features on the DVD, they are Great too, even the commentary added that you can listen to the two women explain throughout the movie how everything came together and went down. Extra scenes help explain a lot and were great as well. I was always an Obama supporter and this just reinforced my views. Seeing any! behind the scenes footage is a great treat and well fought for and sought after.
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Great behind the scenes look at how an election is supposed to run
lisa-6295 August 2010
Whether you like Obama or not, this film is an excellent documentary following a successful campaign. Axelrod and Gibbs played a crucial role in Obama's election, and this film highlights the brilliant ideas they came up with along the way. The movie doesn't play favorites, and doesn't appear biased against McCain and towards Obama, it is simply a film showing how hard it is and the path this President took to achieve his goals and aspirations. I would recommend this film for anyone interested in the behind the scenes work behind Obama's campaign. As far as history goes, Obama's election is a milestone, whether you like it or not. That being said, his steps to the highest office are wonderfully culminated in this documentary.
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Captures the Spirit
darling13710 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Like most HBO documentaries it is well structured, paced perfectly and visually appealing. I like documentaries anyway and I realize they all have a bias or an agenda and this is no different. Clearly the film puts Obama's amazing campaign in the best possible light. Good news is shown in real time with reactions from the candidate himself while bad news (Ayers, Wright, previous races and experience, etc) is shown in retrospect or downplayed.

What makes the film good is also its Achilles Heel. Following the candidate from just before he decides to run, we see the people around Obama more than the candidate himself and get a glimpse of the times in which his campaign and subsequent election take place. Both effectively place the campaign in context. People were showing up in record numbers and hadn't been this excited about a candidate probably since JFK. The film effectively captures the magic (and hysteria) that infected Democrats and influenced enough independents.

I am no fan of the man as president, so I also have a post-disposition (as opposed to a predisposition), so it was hard to warm up to the man to begin with. But the doc doesn't reveal much more about him than we already know. He's calm, cool, collected, has a nice and attractive family, and speaks well...exactly how he's described today. By concentrating on his advisors and fans we get insight into the effect his election had on people but not no particular insight on how he deals with his staff, what he really cares about, or, with little exception, how he acts under adversity. One point that stands out is his surprising defeat in NH which he maintains (how long afterward we don't know)was a good thing. Ever the spin master, we see him only as the consummate politician without much of a hint of how much the setback bothered him as a person.

Perhaps, after his administration is walking out the door of its last term, the makers will give us more of a taste of who the "real" Barack Obama is with the extra footage in a second installment. For now we will settle for a little of "behind the scenes" of the most electric campaign of the last 30 years.
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A Waste of Hollywood Talent
OutsideHollywoodLand2 February 2010
By the People: the Election of Barack Obama, released in 2009 shortly before the presidential election, falls somewhere in between political propaganda and an amateur film diary. Directed by Amy Rice and Alicia Sams, produced by actor Edward Norton, this HBO documentary presents a one-dimensional view of the 2008 presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain.

Given that 98% of Hollywood is liberal, it was inevitable that a movie about Barack Obama would be made…but couldn't By the People at least be entertaining or enlightening? Apparently, Rice, Sams, and Norton, et al, didn't think so. With unlimited funds and talent at their disposal, People boils down to a tunnel view of the campaign, and its supporting cast of star-struck campaign workers, mainstream media, and huge crowds of enthusiasts.

At the forefront is Obama, who appears to play to the camera like a star-struck kid, enjoying every moment of the branding that is Mr. O. The "behind-the-scenes" glimpses are just as carefully staged as Candidate Obama's many appearances, staff conferences, and his off-hand comments such as, "I love elections, they're so much fun!". No – really! The film lacks any narrative style – and any narration, for that matter - and the audience is left to plow through almost two hours of wall-to-wall film footage of this sticky-sweet homage to the perfect Liberal candidate. Without showing the reality that goes into every political campaign or exploring Obama's crafted image, By the People comes off as a back-handed tribute to Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will's cinematic design.

A year later and OHLand can't help but wonder if Rice, Sams, and Norton, now well-tempered by time and stark reality, would package their product a bit differently.

Ah, being liberals, probably not.
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SnoopyStyle29 April 2016
This is a behind-the-scene of Barack Obama's Presidential campaign. It starts with him watching the mid-term election in 2006. He would announce a few months later. This follows the campaign all the way to the night of victory.

This is in the same vein as the great documentary "The War Room (1993)" which followed Bill Clinton's campaign. It is inferior in a couple of ways. It's been done before. It's now more or less a historical document at this point. I would have loved one for W. The other problem is the limited drama.

This one follows more with people further down the food chain. "The War Room" followed James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. They were great characters near the top of the food chain. This one is a lot of (to quote Palin) Hopey Changey thing. It follows organizer Ronnie Cho who is representative of the ground troops. The upper level stuff is never quite so compelling. It feels like we're just outside of the war room. It might also be Obama's calm persona injecting into his campaign or that everybody is tapping away at their Blackberry. This is a nice recount of the campaign. I can't help but wonder if Hilary's campaign has a more compelling behind-the-scenes movie.
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How Fast the Election Seemed to Move in this Documentary ***
edwagreen7 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This interesting documentary brought the story of Obama's election down to a more personal level. You really get the idea that the people associated with his successful win were all quite young with the exception of a middle-aged David Axelrod.

More of the differences between Hillary Clinton and our 44th Chief Executive should have been shown.

Interesting to see how the mock debates were held in preparation for debating Sen. McCain.

Sarah Palin was depicted in the way that she deserved to be highlighted.

The election of President Obama, while certainly a grass roots effort, was more than that. It occurred due to the failings of the Bush Administration.

However, during the next 3 years, we need more action rather than Change We Can Believe In. After all, Mr. Obama is now the incumbent. If we don't get this, Barack shall join Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter and G.H.W. Bush as one-term presidents since 1900.

Nice to see that the race issue was played down in this documentary despite the Rev. Wright controversy.

As always, it was the economy again!!!
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