Jonathan Demme’s Jimmy Carter Man From Plains, like Neil Young: Heart of Gold and The Agronomist, is a poignant portrait of a great man. This emotive look at Jimmy Carter’s Palestine Peace Not Apartheid book tour peers intensely into the searching, glass-blue eyes of a man who has scrutinized the problems of the world with more understanding and compassion than any other American President. This is not a gushing puff piece, but Demme is clearly in awe of Carter, whose intelligence, tact, relationship to Jesus, and human rights work—from New Orleans to Darfur—represents a rebuke to the fascist, obstinate toil of George W. Bush, who not only refused Carter’s ambassadorship in the Middle East but failed to capitalize on the former President’s historic visit to Cuba a few years ago. Demme charts the poetry of Carter’s soul, beginning and ending in Plains, Georgia, where Carter longingly recalls the effect his surrogate mother, the African-American Rachel Clark, had on his consciousness, getting to the root of the former President’s sense of moral continuity and essence as a human and spiritual being in the way Carter dealt with the controversy surrounding his book because of its incorporation of the word apartheid into its title and Carter’s ballsy but not unpopular opinion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The documentary culminates with the brave meeting Carter agreed to have with a group of angry rabbis who tellingly didn’t allow their faces or dialogue to be shown in the film and a non-confrontation with the histrionic Alan Dershowitz, who, while rationally understanding the context in which Carter made his regrettable “so-called Holocaust” comment in January, embarrasses himself by correlating “cockroaches” to Arabs when talking about Carter’s sympathy for Palestine. Carter may cry when he watches Man from Plains and witnesses a young Jewish man rallying outside one of his book signings, screaming to a group of Palestinians that they’re “nobodies” and that they should go back to Jordan because “there is no Palestine”? If so, Demme may be there to scoop up those tears, reminding us as Man From Plains often does that they flow from a bountiful place of awareness.
- Jonathan Demme
- Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter
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