Returning to Iowa 2012

A film documenting the 2012 GOP fight at the Iowa caucuses is just one of several politically influenced moves to be showcased at this year’s AFI Docs festival.

Formerly known as Silverdocs, the festival is celebrating its 11th year by expanding its selections to theaters throughout the Washington, D.C., area.

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AJ Schnack’s “Caucus” is Saturday’s main selection and features the main participants in the first battle of the 2012 Republican primary season, including Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), who won the Ames straw poll and was briefly a favorite in the state; former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.); then-Rep. Ron Paul (Texas); eventual GOP presidential nomine Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

It gives a particularly intimate view of former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), who won the caucuses.

“We mostly focus on Sen. Santorum and Rep. Bachmann. In large part, they have arcs that are fascinating when juxtaposed against one another,” Schnack told The Hill.

“You have Bachmann, who started out strong and won the straw poll and was at the top of polls and then collapsing,” Schnack said. “Then Santorum struggling, struggling and struggling and then coming out of nowhere to win. The film follows their story in Iowa, but everyone makes an appearance at some point.”

Schnack and his crew were in and out of the state for a few weeks at a time from May 2011 until the January 2012 vote.

He promised that even journalists and strategists who were camped out in Iowa would be surprised by some of the moments they captured, though he wouldn’t give any hints as to what they were.

Schnack gave Santorum an early viewing of the film and noted the former senator was surprised by some of the scenes they captured.

“Sen. Santorum saw the film, and I think he was surprised, like ‘You were there then?’”

He noted, “We were always taking the long view of what it must be like to be a candidate and go through this gauntlet in Iowa. I think you see a lot of human moments of candidates where things go wrong.”

“It’s definitely like a nostalgia tour.”

After the screening, there will be a Q&A with Schnack, Bachmann campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart and Santorum campaign spokesman Matt Beynon.

The festival begins Wednesday night with a screening of “Letters to Jackie” at the festival’s opening gala.

The documentary features letters written to Jackie Kennedy shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination. A variety of celebrities — including Jessica Chastain, Chris Cooper, Viola Davis, Zooey Deschanel, Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, Mark Ruffalo, Octavia Spencer, Channing Tatum, Betty White and Michelle Williams — read the letters over archival footage of the Kennedy era.

The film festival changed its name to AFI Docs in honor of the American Film Institute returning to its birthplace. The group was created in the White House Rose Garden in 1967 as a national arts organization to train filmmakers and preserve the country’s film heritage.

The large number of politically themed documentaries is not unusual for the genre or for an event in the nation’s capital.

“It’s fundamentally inherent in the documentary genre itself that many, many documentary filmmakers are drawn to social and political issues,” festival director Sky Sitney said. “I think that it’s very pervasive. Certainly, we know that we have a very specific geographic location that lends itself to telling these stories.”

More than 2,000 submissions were made to organizers, who spent half a year whittling them down to the more than 50 films shown during the five-day event.

“We try to balance out the lineup in terms of themes, in terms of gender balance, in terms of who’s telling a story, geographical balance [and] hopefully deliver a well-rounded program,” Sitney said.

About 50 screeners do the first run through of the submissions and then a 15-member committee makes the final selections.

“We literally review every single film,” she said.