Even before anyone realized that Jimmy Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid” would stir up controversy and a lively but sometimes vicious debate, filmmaker Jonathan Demme decided to follow the former president during his book tour. Demme has produced a powerful documentary, “Jimmy Carter: A Man from Plains,” now showing in limited distribution in major cities around the country. For me, it was one thing to read Carter’s book — most journalists and critics who trashed it and the author did not read it. But it is even more moving to witness Carter through Demme’s Hollywood lens as he travels from book stores to media interviews to university speeches preaching peace, justice and principle.
Demme is best known to me as the director of the shocking Hollywood film, “Silence of the Lambs.” Demme’s documentary on Carter might borrow the same film title, but in a different way. “Man from Plains” exposes the “silence of the lambs” when it comes to how the news media report the facts in the Middle East conflict. And no one is better qualified to address those facts than Carter, a man whose humanity is so powerful that it keeps him going even today at age 83, helping those in need throughout the world.
Despite his defiance, Carter admits the attacks are painful. “I have been hurt and so has my family by some of the reactions,” Carter says. “But, this is the first time I’ve been called a liar, a bigot and an anti-Semite, a coward and a plagiarist. This has hurt me.”
Demme shows all sides in the debate and the documentary is gripping from the opening personal moments with Carter through the protests, speeches and confrontations with the media. When you read Carter’s book, you might understand the challenges standing in the way of peace in the Middle East. When you watch Demme’s portrayal of Carter, a modern day Gandhi, you will care.