First Stop, Iowa!
First Stop, Iowa! is a grassroots film about a grassroots campaign. It takes an outsider's look at US Presidential nominating politics in an attempt to figure out how it works, and why on earth Iowa has such a big say in deciding who becomes the next leader of the free world!
Australian radio reporter John Barron and filmmaker Rebecca Glenn joined the Democratic campaign trail in August 2007 when most of the potential Commanders-in-Chief were travelling from town-to-town and farm-to-farm across the 99 counties of Iowa. Although they had set out to investigate Iowa's influence, they soon found themselves at an extraordinary moment in history.
The Iowa Caucus dates back to the violence and bloodshed of 1968; the year civil rights leader Martin Luther King and Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy were shot and killed, and the Democratic Convention in Chicago degenerated into a riot. That year led to a change in the way Democratic nominating politics was conducted: Control of the selection process was wrested away from party leaders in smoke-filled back rooms, and handed to ordinary Americans in an attempt to increase the party's diversity. The Iowa Caucus emerged from the shake-up in 1972 as the first vote in the nation.
To win over voters in the early states and provide their campaign with momentum, candidates now had to engage in grassroots politics; appealing directly to ordinary people. But, as the Presidential contenders presented themselves to the people to win votes, the media's power intensified. Without media coverage, candidates had almost no hope of attracting attention or campaign funds. And without much money, Presidential campaigns could falter in weeks. It seemed the power of ordinary Americans had been usurped by the media.
This was the America the filmmakers expected; politics dominated by big money and big media with showbiz-style campaigns run by consultants and spin-doctors. But they found nominating politics was more complex, decidedly less glamorous, and involved more 'real people' than anticipated.
Furthermore, it appeared the moment had finally arrived when America's diversity might be reflected in its highest office. Forty years after the Democratic Party professed its wish to 'open up the party' and with the office of the President of the United States still only ever having been held by 42 white men, the field of viable candidates included a black man, a woman, and a Latino.
Including interviews with the likes of George McGovern, Jody Powell, Joe Biden, Maxine Isaacs, Robert Shrum and volunteers for Barack Obama, the documentary follows the campaigns from Iowa to New Hampshire, to South Carolina and New York, and finally on to Chicago.
First stop, Iowa! reveals the journey from the violence and disillusionment of 1968 in Chicago back to the same streets 40 years later, where the dreams of many Democrats come to fruition – this time amid scenes of jubilation and tears of joy.