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Mitt Romney documentary kicks off Sundance in Salt Lake City

Published January 18, 2014 4:51 pm

Utah politicians turn out en masse for Salt Lake City screening of the film.
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"Way too much reality," Mitt Romney voiced Friday night to another politician, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, minutes after his first viewing of "Mitt," the Sundance documentary detailing his losing presidential campaign.

Director Greg Whiteley's movie is as straight-forward as its title, filled with scene after scene of family political conversations over legal pads and take-out food in hotel rooms and backstage at convention centers. It's a remarkable cinéma vérité view of a political campaign, offering the kind of close-up view that most civilians never get to see, said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, which bought the documentary and will begin streaming it on Jan. 24.

There's no big reveal in the 90-minute film, which instead tells its story through layers upon layers of intimate details, including shots of the Mormon family kneeling in prayer. And in one particularly practical scene, viewers see the presidential candidate attempting to press his wrinkled shirt cuffs, while dressed, with a steam iron. "I could make a 90-minute film of Mitt Romney turning off lights and picking up garbage," Whiteley told the audience, joking about the businessman's legendary frugality, while Romney laughed, his cheeks turning red, in his seat.

Romney originally nixed the idea of the project, but his wife, Ann, later gave permission. Whiteley said he showed up at the family home in Park City on Christmas Eve and filmed a family meeting discussing whether Romney should run for president. "Mitt opened the door — the first time I met him, and the first time he met me — I just started filming, and I didn't stop for six years," said the director, whose first film, "New York Doll," screened at Sundance in 2005.

Watching the documentary was a chance to relive six years of campaigning in a compressed 90 minutes, Romney said at the Salt Lake City premiere, before repeating the joke he and Ann tossed off to reporters on the red carpet line beforehand. "I wasn't wild about the conclusion."

While praising Whiteley's vision, no filmmaker could capture the honor it was to have the opportunity to make a presidential run, Romney repeated to supporters. The audience offered Utah's adopted son and his wife, Ann, a standing ovation before the screening and prolonged chants of "Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!" after the credits rolled.

Rows of Romneys filled seats at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, where volunteers in the ticket lines had been supplied a cheat sheet with labeled family mug shots.

Beside Romney family and supporters, the audience for the 6:30 p.m. screening was packed with Utah politicians, from Gov. Herbert, who offered his annual welcome to the Sundance crowd, underscoring the economic benefit and free publicity the film festival brings to Utah.

He and his wife, Jeanette, were joined by a who's who of Utah notables, ranging from Rep. Jason Chaffetz to Salt Lake County and City mayors, Ben McAdams and Ralph Becker, and business officials such as banker Scott Anderson, as well as developer Kem Gardner and philanthropist Spence Eccles.

For Ann Romney, the movie's best moments showed how the family loved and supported each other during the campaign. Her favorite scene? When son Josh asked someone to slap his cheeks to relieve the stress of waiting for campaign returns on election eve. What the camera didn't show, Ann Romney laughed, was that all four of his brothers were lining up to do the honors.


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The documentary by Greg Whiteley is playing in the Documentary Premieres category of the Sundance Film Festival.

Saturday, Jan. 18, 5:44 p.m. • The MARC, Park City

Sunday, Jan. 19, 6 p.m. • Salt Lake City Library Theatre, Salt Lake City

Monday, Jan. 20, 12:30 p.m. • Redstone Cinema 1, Park City

Wednesday, Jan. 22, noon • Screening Room, Sundance Resort

Friday, Jan. 24, 6:30 p.m. • Peery's Egyptian Theater, Ogden

Saturday, Jan. 25, 8:30 p.m. • Prospector Square Theatre, Park City Sundancing online

Follow The Salt Lake Tribune's Sundance coverage at sltrib.com/sundance, sltrib.com/Blogs/sundanceblog and on Twitter @sundancelive.

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