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Buttigieg doc director says film offers personal look at 2020 presidential race

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg
Greg Nash

The director of a new documentary focused on Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 campaign says his film confronts the personal toll running for president takes on White House hopefuls.

“What is it like to be a human being and undertake this?” is the central question in “Mayor Pete,” Jesse Moss says. 

The documentary — filmed over the course of the former South Bend, Ind., mayor’s campaign — premieres on Amazon Prime on Friday.

Moss says he was promised by producers “really close access” to the now-Transportation secretary before cameras started rolling. But his first, somewhat cringeworthy face-to-face meeting with Buttigieg on an Acela to Washington might’ve convinced him the effort would veer off the tracks.

“[Buttigieg] was sitting there with his two traveling aides and I sat down — it was like an empty seat — and I introduced myself. And he said, ‘Hello.’ And then he just turned back to his work,” Moss recalls.

“I just sat there for about three minutes in silence. I thought, OK, maybe we’re not going to make small talk and we’re not going to talk about the project. And then I got up and I went back to my car.”

“It wasn’t rude. It just felt awkward to me,” says Moss, who worked on Capitol Hill for former Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) before becoming a filmmaker.

But then, the “Boys State” co-director says he had a conversation with Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, “And suddenly, I was like, oh wait, there’s another person. It quickly reshaped my understanding of what the film might be about.”

The result is a peek inside not only the rollercoaster campaign of the country’s first openly gay major presidential candidate, but also a fly-on-the-wall look at the personal side of politics: a rare “date night” for the Buttigiegs at a Dairy Queen, the pair envisioning what it would be like to have kids one day, the presidential contender getting a pep talk backstage from his spouse before a public appearance.

In the opening moments of the film, Chasten Buttigieg, who became a famous face himself on social media and the campaign trail, is seen suggesting questions to ask his famously reserved husband. “You spent so much of your life in a way hiding who you truly were. Did you feel like you were able to be your true self on the campaign trail?” the former schoolteacher says. He then quips to Buttigieg, “Don’t bullshit us, Peter.”

“I found that Chasten was a way of understanding Pete, and seeing Pete and unlocking an emotional side of Pete, and just humanizing Pete,” Moss says.

For Pete Buttigieg — who made history in February as the first openly gay person confirmed to a Cabinet post — the presidential campaign challenged him to “grow and summon this side of himself that is protected, that is more emotional,” Moss says.

In the film, Buttigieg opens up about his mindset: “My approach to a lot of these things is to think them through. In my way of coming at the world, the stronger an emotion is, the more private it is — which is a strange thing because politics is an emotional pursuit, of course.”

Thirty-nine-year-old Pete Buttigieg — who along with Chasten announced the birth of their twins in September — was unavailable for an interview about the film because of his role as a federal employee. But in the documentary, he suggests he isn’t ruling out another run for the Oval Office.

“Time is on my side, I hope,” he says.

Tags Chasten Buttigieg Indiana Mayor Pete documentary Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg
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