Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President
If it hadn’t been for a bottle of scotch and a late-night visit from musician Gregg Allman, Jimmy Carter might never have been elected the 39th President of the United States. JIMMY CARTER, ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT charts the mostly forgotten story of how Carter, a lover of all types of music, forged a tight bond with musicians Willie Nelson, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan and others. Low on campaign funds and lacking in name recognition, Carter relied on support from these artists to give him a crucial boost in the Democratic primaries. Once Carter was elected, the musicians became frequent guests in the White House. The surprisingly significant role that music played throughout Carter’s life and in his work becomes a thread in this engaging portrait of one of the most enigmatic Presidents in American history.
POLITICAL TIMES A-CHANGIN’
The extraordinary footage and first-person accounts in JIMMY CARTER, ROCK & ROLL PRESIDENT sets the stage for what, in retrospect, is a towering truth: That the Carter Administration, far from being a one-term presidency between tumultuous eras, was full of resounding successes that rose above the oft-noted ennui of the late 1970s , which Carter himself addressed in his 1979 “Crisis of Confidence” address to the nation.
“It was a time in which civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights — ‘human rights,’ as Bono says in the film — were all ascendant, as well as environmental awareness, including the solar panels Carter put on the White House in 1979,” says Farrell. “He created the departments of Energy in 1977 and the Department of Education in 1979, neither of which, amazingly, hadn’t existed before his administration. He cut this country’s oil consumption in half. It was truly a time when it seemed things were going in the right direction. It was a special moment — and then came hyperinflation, the Iran hostage crisis, and in 1980 Ronald Reagan won and soon after began government deregulation.”
Another example of Carter’s unique approach to the presidency: Never using military force to signify strength.
Says Wharton, “Carter is rightfully very proud of the fact that we never dropped a bomb on his watch, that no Americans were sent into war. And he’s a Navy man, a proud veteran of the armed forces. But the lack of war during his presidency meant something to him, and still does. Republicans and critics tried to label him as a ‘peacenik,’ but Carter’s approach to conflict was based on soft diplomacy. He is a man with a conscience.”
That conscience is dramatically evident during footage of the 1978 Camp David Accords, in which Carter brought Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together for 12 days of intense and secret negotiations at Camp David in September 1978 to hammer out an agreement between the two countries — the only time in the thousand-year history of the Middle East that there was an official peace.
“That accord showed his skill in deal-making, in which you have to be creative, determined, and understanding of both sides to be successful,” says Farrell. “Real deal-making is all about finding solutions in ways that people before you said couldn’t be done.”
As the 1980 presidential campaign began, Carter was mired in negotiations for the 52 American diplomats who were being held hostage in Iran beginning in November 1979 — the event that engulfed the nation on a nightly basis and cast a shadow over his presidency. “It’s telling that Carter was so focused on negotiating for hostages that he refused to campaign for re-election — Rosalynn and Chip were sent out on campaign trail for him,” says Wharton. “Just as in 1976, there were fundraising concerts held as part of the 1980 campaign, but the media wasn’t covering them, because Carter didn’t attend. He was intent on the crisis.”
Since leaving office, Carter’s work with The Carter Center and collaboration with Habitat for Humanity (through the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project) have been instrumental in alleviating homelessness; treating preventable diseases including Guinea Worm and malaria; and promoting equality and diplomacy. In the film, we see his involvement with these causes and others sparking the same kind of excitement and enthusiasm that hanging out with music superstars did in the years he was elected president.
Says Farrell, “Jim Free, the former Special Assistant to the President who’s interviewed for the film, says that he often tells people, ‘If you like what Jimmy Carter has done since he left office, well, when he was president he was all about doing the same things — making people’s lives better.’”
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NR | Documentary
Sat, Oct 24, 2020 – 3:00pm
Wed, Oct 28, 2020 – 6:30pm