But as painful as that moment was, it gave her an unyielding sympathy for candidates from both parties as she filmed “Housequake.” Price’s new documentary follows seven congressional races during the 2006 election, when the Democrats regained power on Capitol Hill.
Family plays a large role in the film as the candidates see their privacy slip away and bear the brunt of opponents’ personal attacks. As the daughter of a congressman, Price has witnessed her fair share of onslaughts over the more than two decades of her father’s career.
“My dad’s seen a lot of really sleazy stuff in politics,” she said, adding that “the drama of winning and losing and rejection and acceptance can get pretty personal, and it’s a really hard thing for any of [the families] to go through. It’s tough.”
That same drama can also become a tool, as Price later discovered when working on her film. She quickly bonded with Rep. Baron Hill’s (D-Ind.) daughter, massage therapist Cara Huddleston, while interviewing her for the documentary.
“She didn’t understand why people just can’t have good energy,” Price said.
The film was a merging of worlds for Price, who lived politics growing up but who, as a film graduate of the University of Southern California, found herself more comfortable observing people than being at the center of the action.
“If I hadn’t been a documentarian, I probably would have done psychological research,” she said. “In politics there is a lot of interesting psychology, and [the 2006 election] was just especially that way because it was turning around a really negative mood that was deep. People were saying that Democrats were a permanent minority.”
“Housequake” is Price’s first feature-length documentary, but she has also directed, produced and written a number of documentary projects for the Discovery Health Channel, the Travel Channel, Animal Planet, Lifetime and HGTV. In 2001, she directed the documentary “Living by Instinct: Animals and their Rescuers,” which was broadcast on PBS and won several national awards.
Price’s father gave her the idea for “Housequake” when he told her about the efforts of then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman and -Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) to end the Democrats’ 12-year losing streak by recruiting solid candidates in as many districts as possible.
“He started telling me about the kind of people they were recruiting,” she said.
People like the political neophyte Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), an engineer who built wind turbines. And people like Hill, who had been voted out of office in 2004 and was not keen on putting his family through another campaign. Price said her dad helped convince Hill to run again because Rep. Price had bounced back from his 1994 election defeat to regain his seat.
“So when I was talking with [the Hills], I was especially interested in hearing their story because I’d been through those ups and downs, and they’re really hard,” she said.
Rep. Price said he tried to keep out of the project as much as possible because it was Karen’s. But he did end up working with his daughter, helping her understand some of the film’s elements.
“I tried not to impose myself, for one reason that I’m not a creative specialist,” he said recently during a break from House votes. “And while I could help her understand some of the personalities and some of the context, it was way beyond my qualities to help put something like this together.”
McNerney watched the “Housequake” premiere at downtown Washington’s E Street Cinema last week. Reached by phone afterward, the now-second-term lawmaker said he was thrilled to see how much he had grown in nearly three years.
“It just showed us candidates that were unsophisticated politically the way we were,” he said. “And you look back and say, ‘Wow, I actually survived that.’And now we’re actually a little more experienced and know how to deal with those situations a little better.”
The other 2006 races featured in the documentary include those of Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) and Peter Roskam (R-Ill.).
Price said the flexibility she learned as the child of a politician prepared her for the uncertainty of filming the documentary.
“The more in the middle of it you are, the more confused you are about what’s actually going to happen,” she said. “In a documentary the best-laid plans are always going to go awry, and you’re going to have to improvise and figure out Plan B.”
In fact, this project required the utmost flexibility, because she didn’t know how the congressional races would end — leaving the weight of the film in question.
It wouldn’t have been as interesting if the Republicans had won the 2006 congressional elections, she said in retrospect.
“It wouldn’t have been ‘Housequake,’ ” Price said. “It would have been ‘House Sustain.’ ”
The Los Angeles resident has gotten some mixed reviews of her film, with some Democrats telling her it should have taken a more liberal stand.
“I’m not doing this to take a stand,” she countered. “I’m doing this to tell a story … When I watch a documentary that’s one-sided, I get this angry feeling, and I almost take the opposite stance. I think you have a responsibility to show as much of what’s going on as you can and let people form their own conclusions.”
Perhaps it’s that passion for objectivity that never drove her to follow in her father’s footsteps. Or perhaps it’s just not in her nature.
“My dad, on a given [weekend], he’ll get up, go to a church and give the sermon, he’ll go to a pig pickin’, then he’ll go to an Indian temple, then he’ll go to a labor union rally. It’s just one after another and shaking hands, shaking hands, shaking hands,” she said.
She does, however, have the energy for more film projects. One possibility is a film on the mental health facilities in her home state of North Carolina.
And Congress might not be rid of her yet.
At the request of Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), Price is considering a documentary on the 50th annual congressional baseball game in 2011.