Iowa Caucuses - warts and all - star in new documentary film

A.J. Schnack's "Caucus" takes an even view of the 2012 race

Rick Santorum speaks at the Coralville City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011. (David Scrivner/SourceMedia Group)
Rick Santorum speaks at the Coralville City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011. (David Scrivner/SourceMedia Group)

Are Iowa’s caucuses retail politics at their finest, or an overhyped parade of would-be presidential candidates courting a handful of voters in a state that’s not always representative of the nation?

Both, really — sometimes all at once — which is at least part of the reason why the question is never far from politically minded lips.

It comes up every time the words “Iowa” and “politics” meet in a headline; even now, almost halfway between the last presidential primary and the next. That’s fine.

But I wish that every pundit who wants to weigh in on the issue would first sit down and watch a documentary that’s on its way to Iowa (and following that, New York — thank you very much). “Caucus,” by filmmaker A.J. Schnack, follows Republican presidential hopefuls during the 2011-12 caucus season from city park to coffee shop to house party by the pool.

I’m no film reviewer, but I do follow politics. I think Schnack did a great job of capturing the race — warts and all — without sinking into cynicism.

In some ways, it’s a trip down memory lane: Here’s the Rick Perry attack ad that ran so often we had dreams about it. There are the 99 percenters shouting down Newt Gingrich at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, and his cool and measured response.

But Schnack gets behind these made-for-TV moments to find the caucuses’ beating, human heart. “Good practice,” Gingrich says about his hecklers to a companion as he hurries from the med school to his next engagement in Des Moines.

We’re privy to others’ distinct reactions to curve ball questions thrown by Iowans of all shapes and sizes. Spoiler alert: Michele Bachmann leans toward non sequiturs; Rick Santorum earnestly pursues.

“Caucus” presents a three-dimensional look at everything lovable and questionable about our much-beloved, much-reviled event. It’s worth seeing, and not just so you can listen to Herman Cain sing or see Marcus Bachmann thumb wrestle people for votes.

Because outside the tricked-out tour buses and slicked-back soundbytes, there’s still a lot to value about a political process that, by necessity, takes place mostly on the ground.

“Caucus” opens Oct. 25 in Des Moines, Oct. 26 in Iowa City and at select Fridley Theaters in Iowa on Oct. 28. More information at:

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