Most people associate Jim McGreevey with the famous line from his resignation speech: “I am a gay American.”
But Alexandra Pelosi gives viewers a new look at the former New Jersey governor in her documentary “Fall to Grace.”
Pelosi, in her 45-minute documentary premiering Thursday night on HBO, shows his new life: ministering to women in prisons and studying to be an Episcopalian priest.
The film shows a chastened, brutally honest McGreevey talking about his work and the life he led as a politician.
“I had created my own myth,” he says in the film, which is sprinkled with highlights of McGreevey’s political career and includes shots of the ex-governor with former President Clinton, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) and former President George W. Bush.
After tracing his downfall, the documentary turns to his life with his partner, Mark O’Donnell, and his work in New Jersey’s penal system. Pelosi joined McGreevey in his prison work, filming his sessions with women as he counsels them and helps them with the transition out of jail.
“My hope is it will change the perception of the incarceration of women — that incarceration is a very expensive and failed experiment,” McGreevey told The Hill.
During a 25-minute conversation, he spoke passionately about his work and said he was happy with how the documentary turned out.
Pelosi said McGreevey’s dedication to his new cause was what most surprised her about him.
“His dedication to them is admirable,” she said, noting that McGreevey goes to visit prisoners even on Christmas and Easter.
She said it was his recovery that drew her to film him and led to the documentary’s name, “Fall to Grace.”
“I love the theme of redemption,” she said.
“If you spend time with he now, he’s doing real work,” she noted, adding: “He fell to a good place.”
Pelosi, the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), admits she took a stealthy approach in making her documentary.
“I stole this movie from Jim,” she said. “He didn’t find out I was making a movie about him until I called him and told him it was playing at Sundance and he needed to sign a release.”
The process began, said Pelosi, when she had lunch with McGreevey and O’Donnell and asked if she could make a documentary about the former governor’s new line of work.
The response was no, so she asked if she could just shoot some footage of him working in the prisons. Going from there, she filmed McGreevey at his home and during interviews she did with him.
Pelosi did all the filming herself — she ended up with two years’ worth of footage — using a small, hand-held camera.
She said because the camera is so small and un-intrusive, “people don’t realize I’m making a movie about them.”
“If you put a real camera and real klieg lights in their face, they change,” she said. “I just hang out with people and bring my camera.”
McGreevey said it was Pelosi’s “tenacity and perseverance” that led to the project’s completion.
“Alexandra had a substantial commitment to spending time in jail and listening to the women and their stories,” he added.
Pelosi has made eight documentaries. Her most famous of them was 2002’s “Journeys with George,” her look at George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.
And she took some tips from a master strategist during that time.
“I’m from the Karl Rove school of filming: I beg for forgiveness instead of asking permission,” she said. “In 1999 when I had a camera in Bush’s face, Karl Rove walked up to me and said ‘Oh, I get it. You’re from the ‘it’s better to beg for forgiveness instead of asking permission’ school.’ And I said ‘yup’ and he said ‘all right,’ and that was that.”
As for McGreevey, he still works with women, although his studies for the priesthood have been put on hold.
When asked by The Hill if he would ever run for public office again, he was quick to respond: “No, God forbid.”
It was a subject that was also touched on in “Fall to Grace.”
“I think every governor of New Jersey has visions of grandeur — United States Senate, running for higher office,” McGreevey said candidly in the film.
And when Pelosi asked him if that included a run for the White House, he responded, “It was a dream.”