Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine

My 5 Minutes with the President

For over 20 years, Emmy-award winning directors/producers Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine have jointly created critically acclaimed multi-character documentary narratives that braid their characters’ individual personal stories to form a larger portrait of the human experience.

Their most recent film, the award-winning “Something Ventured,” premiered at SXSW in March, is currently playing at festivals internationally and is slated for broadcast as well as educational distribution worldwide. Geller and Goldfine’s work also includes “Ballets Russes,” which was recognized as one of the top five documentaries of 2005 by both the National Society of Film Critics and the National Board of Review and appeared on a dozen critical “10 Best Films” lists, including those of Time magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Hollywood Reporter, the San Francisco Chronicle and Slate; “Now and Then: From Frosh to Seniors,” which premiered theatrically and aired on PBS; “Kids of Survival: The Art and Life of Tim Rollins + K.O.S.,” a feature-length documentary about the South Bronx-based art group, which aired on Cinemax and was the recipient of two national Emmy Awards; “FROSH: Nine Months in a Freshman Dorm”; and the award-winning “Isadora Duncan: Movement from the Soul.”

Geller and Goldfine are currently in post-production on “Satan Came to Eden: The Galapagos Affair,” a murder-mystery documentary set in the titular islands circa the 1930s. Catch Geller and Goldfine’s latest film, “Something Ventured,” when it opens this week at the Alexandria Film Festival.

Robin Bronk: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about? 

Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller: Since the president’s first-term domestic policy has been focused largely on containing the disaster he inherited in the financial-services industry, we’d love to spend our five minutes talking about how, going forward, his focus might shift to something more positive: entrepreneurship. In other words, what it will take to support and encourage the engineers, scientists, inventors and innovators who are currently working at the frontiers of technology. These are the people who we believe will lead the country onto a healthier and more prosperous path, including providing essential new jobs. This discussion would touch upon the crucial role of an effective public education, the importance of funding pure scientific research and mechanisms for moving that research from the lab to commercial applications.

RB: If you could give President Obama one piece of advice, what would that be?

DG & DG: Stand by the convictions of your early beliefs — the convictions that you expressed so eloquently during your campaign. Some things just shouldn’t be compromised. These are very difficult and turbulent times in which incremental change just can’t stem the tide. Big ideas count, and the power of sustained rhetoric to change the public discourse — i.e., the bully pulpit that is the presidency — can’t be underestimated.

RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?

DG & DG: Let’s take two snapshots. If the president were to evaluate his legacy right now, how would he define it? If he were to do so after a second term, what would he want his legacy to be?

RB: What book would you offer to lend President Obama? Why?

Dan: David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest. It is a cold reminder of how very smart people surrounding a president can convince themselves and their leader to make terrible decisions — and stick by those decisions well past the point of proving poor. One needn’t look too far into the Obama administration to see an awful lot of incredibly intelligent people who appear to have held sway in matters of finance and national security that depart far from what we thought the president actually had in mind.

Dayna: Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. This is the next book I plan to read, and from everything I’ve heard, I can’t think of a more timely read for President Obama. Given the current state of the world, a world in which so much of conventional wisdom needs to be challenged and abandoned, who better to study than the man who challenged us all to “think different”?

RB: If you were going to send the president to one place in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?

DG & DG: Zuccotti Park, New York. A day spent talking and listening to the folks at Occupy Wall Street would bring President Obama back to his roots as a community organizer — that time in his life when he was a street-level listener and problem solver. Who knows what insights he might gain by listening to the perspectives, frustrations, dreams and ideas of the people gathered there? Obama has spoken of the suffocating nature of the bubble surrounding his office — the people in Zuccotti Park are well outside that bubble and squarely inside the USA of today.

RB: Would you ever consider a political career? 

DG & DG: No. To tell the truth, it’s nothing that’s ever crossed our minds. There are political figures we admire, but we feel that there are ways beyond holding office to effect positive change in the world — ways that tap more into our talents … like making documentaries.

Bronk is a seasoned Capitol Hill strategist and advocate. She started her career at The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for the arts and entertainment industry, in July 1998. During her tenure as CEO, Bronk has taken The Creative Coalition from a New York-based entity to a national organization. www.thecreativecoalition.org