‘Journeys with George’: Documentary shows silly side of Bush on campaign trail

Associated Press Writer

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Alexandra Pelosi came to the Texas capital as an NBC News producer to cover Gov. George W. Bush’s bid for the White House in 1999. Last week, she returned as a documentary filmmaker with “Journeys with George.”

The 77-minute movie, that debuted last Friday at the South by Southwest film festival, shows a silly side of the man who would become U.S. president. Some Bush aides have been apprehensive it might make him look unpresidential.

“Stop filming me. You’re like a head cold,” an irritated but smiling Bush tells Pelosi in one scene. “This is going to be a lousy documentary.”

By the end of the movie, though, Bush has grown into a more comfortable, confident candidate. During one heart-to-heart, Pelosi asks how the 18-month campaign has changed him.

“I started as a cowboy,” Bush says. “I’m now a statesman.”

Pelosi, the 31-year-old daughter of House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said she hopes the movie gives people an uncensored look at the president’s personality, the crafting of a campaign and the molding of the media.

“What it reveals is how we elect our presidents, and George Bush just happens to be the character,” she said.

“He was a great person to go on a road trip with. He was a lot of fun. I certainly would not have been able to pull this off if I were covering Al Gore.”

After the election, Pelosi quit her job, formed Purple Monkey Productions and, with editor Aaron Lubarsky, used a home computer to edit the film in her Manhattan apartment.

“Journeys with George” – Bush himself suggested the title – captures a relaxed bologna- and Cheetos-eating candidate who often joked with reporters, even after primary losses.

He makes funny faces, blindly walks around the plane wearing large, dark aviator-style glasses, rolls oranges down the aisle and models what he calls real Texas fashion: long-tailed shirts, cowboy boots and a big belt buckle.

The movie also shows a well-funded, well-orchestrated operation that ensured that every stop featured plenty of supporters waving hand-painted signs provided by the campaign.

“This is really, really homegrown, behind-the-scenes stuff,” Lubarsky said.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie that existed and by the charm and intelligence of Gov. Bush. I was also disappointed by some things that I saw, too – the staging of a lot of the rallies.”
The film features some weary journalists forced to listen repeatedly to the same speech and eat the same turkey sandwiches.

At a snowy stop in Dubuque, Iowa, Houston Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe shivers as he waits for Bush.

“This is insane. The only reason we are out here is in case Bush comes out and slips on the ice and falls down,” he says. “We’re vicious predators.”
Other scenes show off-duty reporters dancing and drinking margaritas at back-of-the-plane parties. One grew too loud for Pelosi, who complained to Bush.

“These are my people,” Bush replies, holding a nonalcoholic beer.

He plays matchmaker with Pelosi and Trent Gegax, a magazine reporter he dubs “Newsweek Man.”

A playful relationship grows between the filmmaker and Bush.

“If you were a tree, what tree would you be?” Pelosi asks in one scene.

“I’m not a tree. I’m a Bush. See, I’m a little quicker than you think, Alexandra,” Bush says, seizing the handheld camera and turning it on his interviewer.

“I saw you walking along a secluded road the other day with Newsweek Man,” Bush says. “It’s none of my business what your private life is like. But let me ask you this question: Was that just a social encounter with Newsweek Man?”

“That was strictly professional,” Pelosi replies. “We were discussing your alternative minimum tax plan.”

“And you felt like you had to hold his hand in order to be able to amplify the discussion?” Bush continues.

Pelosi, who’s looking for a distributor, worried that the White House or other Bush supporters might discourage release of the film. But Republican Rick Perry, who inherited the Texas governorship from Bush, called with an offer to host a debut party.

And White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said: “We do think it will provide an interesting avenue to see the lighter side of a long and grueling campaign journey.”

Bush hasn’t seen the movie, but Pelosi expects him to find it a fair portrayal.

“He was totally letting us laugh at him,” she said. “But in the end, he became president.”