Given the generally liberal politics of the Sundance Film Festival crowd, filmmaker R.J. Cutler’s latest documentary seems certain to provoke a reaction. “The World According to Dick Cheney” profiles the former vice president, whom liberals might consider something of a Darth Vader-ish character.
“To me, he’s as significant a political figure as this country has ever known,” Cutler said. “Certainly as influential a nonpresidential figure as we’ve ever had. He would describe his vice presidency as the most consequential and controversial, and I agree. I’m making a film about a man who’s been a remarkable figure on both the world stage and on the American historical stage, and I was eager to approach him in that way.”
Cutler’s documentary “The September Issue” screened at the film festival in 2009; “Thin” screened there in 2006. He is perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated 1993 documentary “The War Room,” which went behind the scenes of Bill Clinton’s successful campaign for the presidency.
Seven months after Cutler asked Cheney to participate in the progress, the former veep agreed to sit down with him. That resulted in 20 hours of interviews — five hours a day for four consecutive days. “And then on the fifth day, he invited us to join him fly fishing,” Cutler said. “My politics haven’t been impacted at all. But, certainly, once you get to know anybody, you feel differently about them.”
The filmmaker said Cheney had no influence on how he cut together his film and asked for none. “There were no stipulations,” Cutler said. “The vice president, once he agreed to participate, understood that he wouldn’t have any kind of control of the material.”
The choices belonged to Cutler and his co-director, Greg Finton. And Cutler is fully aware that some people will have strong reactions to it.
“It raises a lot of issues of who we are as a country and who we were during the Bush administration, and what we look for in our leaders,” Cutler said. “I’ve shown it to a lot of friends — people with a wide range of political convictions — and it seems to stimulate a very strong response no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. Those who want to know about who this man is and how he acquired the power he acquired and how he thinks and who want to ask questions about his formidable virtues, which range from intelligence and patriotism to loyalty and conviction, will really enjoy the film.”
But he’s prepared for filmgoers to react to “The World According to Dick Cheney” based purely on its subject.
“One views every film through the prism of their own experience and philosophy and political convictions. This one, perhaps, more so than any other one I’ve ever made,” Cutler said. “And that’s very, very exciting to me because it’s a film that’s meant to be provocative whether you’re a Cheney enthusiast or if you don’t agree with anything he ever stood for.”
‘The World According to Dick Cheney’
Directors R.J. Cutler and Greg Finton’s film screens in the Documentary Premieres section of the Sundance Film Festival. Tickets to all screenings are wait-list only.
Tuesday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m. • Screening Room, Sundance Resort, Provo Canyon
Saturday, Jan. 26, 6:15 p.m. • Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City