AUSTIN – Let’s not kid ourselves. Beto O’Rourke has been running long before his announcement Thursday. And nowhere was this more evident than on March 9 in Austin where more than 1,200 people queued before jamming the sold-out Paramount Theater for the first showing of “Running With Beto.”
This is the behind the scenes feature length HBO documentary tracing the former U.S. representative’s close race last year against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz.
The premiere was an early showing at the film portion of Austin’s South by Southwest festival. Shot over the course of a year, the final cut on the 90-minute film was culled from more than 700 hours of footage.
HBO apparently gambled that it would be an interesting documentary if he didn’t run, but it would be a homerun if he did. The movie traces Beto’s fledgling campaign appearances before a handful of people in high school gymnasiums to ever-growing audiences, culminating with his unscripted appearance before tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters at the state Democratic convention in Fort Worth.
Even though he lost by three percentage points, the race he ran is said to be the best statewide Texas showing for a Democrat in 25 years. He also set campaign contribution records, raising some $80 million.
Beto, his wife, Amy, and daughter, Molly, were on hand for the premier and received standing ovations when called to the stage after the show ended along with the director and producers. HBO has purchased five-year distribution and streaming rights for the film but has not announced when it will release the movie – apparently holding on to see if Beto would run.
The documentary features plenty of El Paso scenes, but it also weaves together stories from an unrelated trio of ardent campaign supporters, who also were on hand for the showing and at the after party following. One of the three, Shannon Gay, a blunt-spoken tattooed senior from Bulverde, said she was disgusted with politics and is heard in the film saying she planned to hold Beto to his ideals by “keeping my head so far up your ass I can tell what you had for lunch.”
Language in the film, not to mention comments from the candidate himself, is a bit salty at times – certainly too much so for network television. In fact, the language prompted a comment from Beto’s wife, Amy, that after viewing a rough cut of the film the one question she had was whether some of the expletives could be deleted.
Ellie Ann Fenton, one of two directors of photography on the film and my daughter, said a scene she regretted not making the final cut was one in which Beto, who lost considerable weight during the campaign, displays new holes in his ever tightening belt – each one marking a memorable campaign stop. Beto is proud of the fact that he visited all 254 Texas counties during the campaign.
At the party after the showing he stood for more than an hour, posing for photos with a never-ending line of mostly youthful supporters.
While the HBO release date remains uncertain, the film will not remain under wraps. Director David Modigliani said that for the next couple of months he will be traveling the country promoting the movie at film festivals.
Besides my family, other El Pasoans on hand for the premiere or after party included U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, who replaced Beto in Congress, as well as Beto’s mom, Melissa, her friend, Cotter White, Beto’s sister, Charlotte, and David Garza, who wrote the score for “Running With Beto.”
Garza works out of L.A. but comes to El Paso where he works on musical arrangements at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo
We all know the movie will end with Beto’s election loss, but the film holds your interest and whether you agree with his leftist politics or not, the documentary clearly demonstrates what a remarkable job he did campaigning against all odds.
The movie shows that he is sincere in what he believes, is eager to listen and was respectful of the thousands of people he met during the campaign – even those who don’t subscribe to his liberal views. The film also shows what a terrific job he did proudly representing El Paso – a theme you can expect to carry through on his presidential campaign.