Courting Condi

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Courting Condi
CourtingCondi-Poster.jpg
Official Poster
Directed by Sebastian Doggart
Produced by Sebastian Doggart
Written by Sebastian Doggart
Starring Devin Ratray
Adrian Grenier
Jim Norton
Condoleezza Rice
Frank Luntz
Carol Connors
George W. Bush
Lawrence Wilkerson
Music by Alexandra Gordon
Kerry Shaw
Carol Connors
Steve Earle
Devin Ratray
Sebastian Doggart
Jess King
Cinematography Matthew Woolf
Edited by Dan Madden
Diana DeCilio
Release date(s)
  • November 6, 2008 (2008-11-06)
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Courting Condi is a 2008 film by British filmmaker Sebastian Doggart that portrays the quest of a love-struck man, actor Devin Ratray, who wants to win the heart of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Plot[edit]

Devin Ratray is a musician and besotted admirer of Condoleezza Rice, 'Condi,' who travels across America, learning more about Rice from those who knew her.[1] He speaks to her childhood friends in Birmingham, Alabama. In Denver, Colorado, he performs at Red Rocks,[2] where he meets some of her former teachers, and the one man to whom Rice has been engaged, Rick Upchurch. Upchurch tells Devin that Rice made an oath to God not to have sex before she got married, and deduces that her continued single status and her enduring Christianity confirm that she is still a virgin.[3] Ratray follows Rice's rise to Provost of Stanford University, where he discovers that, while in that position, she departed from the practice of applying affirmative action to tenure. In Los Angeles, he is given courtship advice by Adrian Grenier[1] and cult comedian Jim Norton and is presented with a power ballad to send to Condi from Oscar nominated songwriter Carol Connors. When he arrives in Washington DC, he is assisted by Republican strategist Frank Luntz and is counseled by Newsweek editor Eleanor Clift.

Ratray also learns from various people he meets along the way about Rice's controversial statements to the 9/11 Commission. Through interactions with and clips featuring Colin Powell's Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, 9/11 Commission investigator Richard Ben-Veniste, and Congressman David Price, Ratray gets a fuller picture of how Rice's political positions and political philosophy developed and changed over the years.[4] Finally, Glenn Kessler, a Washington Post reporter and author of a book about Rice and the Bush Administration, discusses Rice's involvement with the government's use of torture during the War on Terror.[5][6]

Style[edit]

The film is the first ever 'musical docu-tragi-comedy' in the history of cinema.[4][7][8][9] In an original journalistic device, it uses an actor, Ratray, to interview friends, relatives and colleagues of Dr. Rice. It innovatively combines interviews, archive footage, animated stills, dramatizations and original songs. Critics described this hybrid genre as "a heady melange of styles and aims"[7] and "a strange mash-up by many measures."[10]

History[edit]

A promo of the film screened at the IFC Center in New York City in April 2007,[11] and led to Discovery Communications commissioning the film for $600,000. In August, one week before principal photography was due to begin, Discovery suddenly announced that they had 'canceled' the film.[12] This followed pressure from Karl Rove,[1] who had found out about the film's critical stance on the Bush Administration and warned Discovery that the movie could damage their "good relations with government".[4][8][13] Discovery settled with the producers, American Princess LLC, for a $150,000 'kill loan', forcing the producers to make the film on a shoestring.[14]

The Bush Administration continued to obstruct the film, sending State Department officials to raid the producers' guesthouse in Washington DC, and plant a bug under a coffee table in their living room—actions which were documented on camera and broadcast on the internet.[15] In February 2008, Channel 4 in the UK provided further financing for the film,[16] leading to its completion in September 2008.

Tensions between Rice and the film's producers continued in the film's marketing and distribution stage. On October 28, 2008, the Stanford Film Society invited the film to screen at Stanford University where Rice was due to return as a fellow. The SFS President Kerry Mahuron wrote: "I have seen the movie and am interested in showing it. However, as you are probably aware, Condoleezza Rice is a current faculty member of the Political Science Department at Stanford, and starting next February will be returning to the University as our Vice Provost. Showing a film that paints her in such a negative light is not only controversial, but also potentially inflammatory and a violation of Stanford policies." Despite these concerns, Mahuron proceeded to confirm a December 2 booking, arguing that "to prevent us from showing the film would violate our right to free speech, so I don't anticipate them being able to stop us."[13]

The SFS also scheduled a post-screening debate on the motion that "This house believes that Stanford University would be well served by welcoming back Condoleezza Rice to its faculty". The SFS invited conservative supporters of Rice, including Stanford fellow, Donald Rumsfeld, to debate in support of the motion. The film's director, Sebastian Doggart, was due to oppose the motion. The 500-seater Cubberley Auditorium was tagged as the venue; flyers and posters were ready for circulation, and invitations sent to the Hoover Institute, Stanford Daily, Intermissions, Stanford College Republicans, Stanford Review, Stanford Conservative Society, Stanford Amnesty, and Stanford Iraq Coalition.

On November 21, Mahuron sent an email to all these groups, stating that the Society had "resolutely decided to cancel the screening." She wrote to the film's director, Sebastian Doggart, stating that the film had been canceled for "logistical reasons... Stanford's two conservative political groups are also hosting an event on the night of December 2, and we were counting on their members to attend the screening and lend plurality to the audience and the Q&A session. December 5 is not an option, because the Stanford's MFA Program in Documentary Filmmaking is hosting its own event that evening, and, since SFS and the MFA Program support each other, we do not want to schedule competing events."[17] Mahuron gave a second reason for the cancellation: "we are now convinced that any debate following the film would not be balanced, and that this event would not be a forum for open and bipartisan political discussion."

Doggart wrote to Mahuron, suggesting they re-schedule the screening until January, to give them time to set up a "balanced" debate. When Mahuron did not reply, American Princess released a press release stating that “the gutless cancellation of this debate is self-censorship at best and direct censorship by Dr. Rice’s friends, at worst. She is clearly trying to gloss over her tragic legacy with all the resources at her disposal."

Mahuron then told the San Jose Mercury News stating that the reason she had canceled the film because "put simply, it was bad". American Princess issued a counter-statement, questioning why Mahuron had suddenly changed her mind about the quality of the film when she was the person who had invited the film to screen. It stated: "Come on Stanford Film Society, step up here! We all know Condoleezza Rice is an expert on Stalin, but do you really not have the cojones to stand up to this blatant violation of free speech? Sure, she is due to be your next vice-Provost in February, but is that really so frightening a prospect that you have to concoct untruthful stories for muzzling criticism of Stanford's most sacred cow? Screen the film in January, organize the debate in a balanced way, and let Stanford students decide for themselves."[18]

Meantime, various Stanford groups such as Stanford Amnesty and Stanford Says No to War wrote to the Stanford Film Society to re-instate or re-schedule the screening. Commenting on the story, Radar magazine wrote: "Wow. We thought this was a country where even Iran's radical prez could speak at Columbia University."[19]

John McMahon, editor of the [dis]claimer newspaper at the University of Denver, where Rice was an undergraduate, responded by organizing a screening of the movie on March 2, 2009, followed by a debate on the motion 'This house believes that Condoleezza Rice should stand trial for war crimes.' Proposing the motion was Rice's political theory professor, Alan Gilbert; defending Rice was Republican State Senator Sean Mitchell.[20] The event met fierce resistance from the University administration. Vice Chancellor Jim Berscheidt had already tried to shut down a shoot and denied the producers access to archive of Josef Korbel. Up until the last moment, Berscheidt sought to use bureaucratic obstacles and straight intimidation of students to stop the event. However, the screening and debate did eventually take place, with a strong turn-out,[21] and webcast on both Mogulus television[22] and through the Amnesty International website.[23]

Courting Condi screened at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival[24] and began its US theatrical run on May 29, 2009 at the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago.[25] It is scheduled for general international release with IndiesDirect on December 2, 2009.[26][27]

Awards[edit]

The film had advance screenings at festivals across the globe, and won a record twenty-six awards, including wins in both Best Documentary and Best Narrative Feature categories—an unprecedented feat in the history of cinema. At the Milan International Film Festival, the film won the prestigious Leonardo's Horse Award for Best Documentary.[28] At the DaVinci Film Festival, the film won the Audience Award for Best Feature Film. At the New Beijing International Film Festival, it won the Golden Duck for Best Long Narrative.[29] At the Garden State Film Festival, it won the Bud Abbott Award for Best Feature Length Comedy,[30] and at White Sands International Film Festival, it won Best Narrative Feature.[31] At the International Film Festival of South Africa, it won Best Documentary.[32] Orlando Film Festival selected the film as the Opening Night film,[33] and awarded it three prizes: Best Performance (Devin Ratray), and second prize for Best Picture and Best Director categories.[34] At Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, the film won Special Award: Most Creative Concept. At Paso Robles International Film Festival, the film won Best Comedic Documentary,[35] and at Connecticut Film Festival, it won Best Political Satire. At the Mammoth Film Festival, where the film was selected as Opening Night performance, the film won Best Comedy/Musical.[36] At the Cinema City Film Festival in Novi Sad, Serbia, it won Best Socially Responsible Film.[37] At the Treasure Coast International Festival, the film was selected for the Opening Night screening, and won awards in four categories: Audience Choice Award (as voted by audiences throughout the festival), Best Documentary, Best Director (Sebastian Doggart), and Best Song (Carol Connors' Condoleezza Condi, I think of you so Fondly).[38] At the Tallahassee Film Festival, composer Carol Connors won the award for Outstanding Achievement for Music in Film for the three songs she wrote.[39] At the 42nd annual WorldFest Houston International Film Festival, it won the Special Jury Remi Award; it won the Bronze Palm for Excellence in Film-making at the Mexico International Film Festival, it won the Bronze Palm for Excellence in Filmmaking;[40] at the Honolulu International Film Festival, it won the Gold Kahuna Award for Documentary;[41] at the Tallahassee Film Festival it won a special award for Outstanding Achievement for Music in Film (Carol Connors); at the British Film Festival of Los Angeles, it won three awards: Best American Documentary, Best Comedy, and Best Song (Invisible);[42] and at Mockfest Hollywood, Carol Connors won Best Cameo.[43]

Reviews[edit]

"An innovative celluloid approach to investigating Miss Rice, the film mixes the styles of a documentary, comedy and musical to throw light on the life of a very private lady. The star is Devin Ratray, best known from his child actor days as Buzz in Home Alone, who plays a hapless chubby musician hopelessly besotted with Rice. As he travels across America interviewing people who know the subject of his unrequited affection, a much darker picture emerges than he ever dreamed. There is a great episode featuring Republican pollster and consultant Frank Luntz giving Ratray advice on how to approach the love of his life. It's part Borat, part Michael Moore, highly entertaining and distinctly unsettling, and has already won 10 awards at various film festivals." -Philip Sherwell, Daily Telegraph.[44]

"A ground-breaking new documentary, Courting Condi, about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice... reveals Rice in various guises - concert pianist, figure skater, orphan, football fan, virgin, oil-woman, liar, incompetent, war profiteer, and torturer. Courting Condi unveils a brand new genre - a musical docu-tragi-comedy. The press release states: “Think Borat meets Fahrenheit 9/11 meets Mamma Mia! It’s one musician’s attempt to win the heart of the world’s most powerful woman, Condoleezza Rice... Courting Condi has already won twenty-five awards on the festival circuit, and survived various attempts by the Bush Administration to shut it down... The film tells Rice’s tale through the eyes of a romantic musician trying to win her heart. Devin Ratray, who played Buzz in Home Alone, and is the star of the new action thriller, Surrogates, travels across America to find out about Bush’s chief confidante, whom Forbes rated as 2005’s most powerful woman in the world, and who has been tipped as a leading Republican capable of mounting a presidential challenge to Obama in 2012." Screen Africa.[9]

“A heady mélange of styles, it includes several brightly animated musical numbers and a delightful cameo by Adrian Grenier of Entourage.” -- Salon.com.[45]

"Courting Condi is a documentary unlike any I’ve ever seen. It’s part “mockumentary,” à la “Spinal Tap” or from the Christopher Guest school, but it uses its comedic premise to present a straight-ahead factual documentary about Condoleezza Rice... The film is often hilarious, tragic, clever, serious and heartbreaking, as Devin’s journey becomes America’s journey into confusion and disillusionment. All this, and several original songs and music videos too! -- Albany Democrat Herald.[46]

"Courting Condi provides a rich background picture of the very private lady as she matures and emerges in political circles. Whatever side you're on, this is a clever documentary construction--a theatrical ruse to keep us amused while building a case against a cold-minded holder of high office. May the effort to distribute this film prove to be profitable." -Jules Brenner, Cinema Signals[47]

"Americans need to be entertained, which is probably why British director Sebastian Doggart chose to film his brilliant new documentary on Condoleezza Rice in the very unlikely genre of a musical comedy. Try to think of Courting Condi as a documentary about the fascinating and yet dark tale of Condoleezza Rice's rise to power as told by Borat and Michael Moore with a delightfully strange musical soundtrack... Devin Ratray's rich music talent and natural comedic brilliance are what makes this dark tale so utterly enjoyable. This movie is a wildly inventive, surreal satire that brilliantly accomplishes its goal of entertaining, educating and exposing the dark side of a prominent national figure at once. It may even be the first time a musical comedy has inspired the impeachment of a high-ranking politician." -Adam Rodriguez, Socially Superlative[48]

"Courting Condi offers viewers the first-ever musical docu-tragi-comedy. It's a highly creative piece of film-making… this unique movie presents fascinating information about one of the world’s most powerful women. Opinionated? Yes, but it’s also a lot of fun and quite provocative." -Betty Jo Tucker, ReelTalk Movie Reviews[49]

“After viewing Courting Condi, it’s almost impossible to believe that the truth about Condoleezza Rice hasn’t been spilled all over newspaper pages across the country… This is the first ever musical docu-tragi-comedy in the history of cinema and has been completed in spite of the Bush Administration’s attempts to shut it down.” – The Mammoth Times[50]

"Witty, poetic and informative. It’s amazing how much of Rice’s life story is in the film.”—Marcus Mabry, The New York Times [9]

"A clever, hard-hitting critical documentary that sneaks under the wire with its goofy premise." -- Honolulu Weekly[51]

“A roller-coaster ride from comedy to astonishment.” – The Beverly Hills Courier [10]

"A baffling hybrid — "a musical documentary comic tragedy" — which traces the biography of Condoleezza Rice, from her birth in Birmingham, Alabama (the Ku Klux Klan attacks on blacks, 1963, a Sunday church full of children to burn…), until she grew and studied, in all her ascent from Stanford University (where she began discriminating Latinos when a lay off was suggested…), until the high rankings of administration in the Chevron enterprises and, finally, the rise to Secretary of State, becoming the intimate tutor of W. Bush — and the 9/11 commission of lies, the sucking of Iraq, the Abu Ghraib scandals, the infamous waterboardings in Guantanamo… The film breaks with impressive sarcasm the cynicism of the American administration of the last eight years and presents an even greater challenge: it reports what was that falsehood in the most unexpected of genres, becoming a kitsch hyper comedy. This wavy ride is led by a large and hopeful man, an all American man that thinks, in his naïve and brutal ignorance that he is in love with Condi Rice, the ex-most powerful woman on the planet, so he goes on a journey to conquer her heart, sniffing into her past, visiting neighbors and nannies, composing and delivering on the way pinky poems and corny songs, unprepared for the wolfish and tigerish truth. This bestial documentary is no less than brilliant — because it all starts as a joke, but we quickly realize that the joke is on us. -- José Miguel Gaspar, Fipresci -- Journal of the international federation of film critics[52]

Courting Condi divides its time between interviewing Rice’s top biographers in a style consistent with Frontline and documenting the interaction between Doggart and Ratray as they collaborate to “win her heart” in a style consistent with Borat (2006), an approach which includes showing the audience multiple animated “Love Disk” music videos. It will push your buttons whether it does so in terms of its unorthodox form or in terms of the unsettling nature of Condoleezza Rice’s time with the Bush administration. Regardless of your opinions of the film after viewing it, it’s a must-see.” – Film International[12]

"A ground-breaking new documentary, Courting Condi, about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice... reveals Rice in various guises - concert pianist, figure skater, orphan, football fan, virgin, oil-woman, liar, incompetent, war profiteer, and torturer. Courting Condi unveils a brand new genre - a musical docu-tragi-comedy. The press release states: “Think Borat meets Fahrenheit 9/11 meets Mamma Mia! It’s one musician’s attempt to win the heart of the world’s most powerful woman, Condoleezza Rice... Courting Condi has already won twenty-five awards on the festival circuit, and survived various attempts by the Bush Administration to shut it down... The film tells Rice’s tale through the eyes of a romantic musician trying to win her heart. Devin Ratray, who played Buzz in Home Alone, and is the star of the new action thriller, Surrogates, travels across America to find out about Bush’s chief confidante, whom Forbes rated as 2005’s most powerful woman in the world, and who has been tipped as a leading Republican capable of mounting a presidential challenge to Obama in 2012." Screen Africa[9]

“In one of what is sure to be a long line of documentaries about members of the President George W. Bush's inner circle of advisors and cabinet members (remember Bush's Brain about Karl Rove?) comes this truly original take on the standard-issue biography film from director Sebastian Doggart. Treading the line between doc and mock, Courting Condi is an often hilarious examination of the life of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice through the eyes of musician and sometime-actor Devin Ratray (he had a role as one of Macaulay Culkin's siblings in the Home Alone movies). Not caring an iota for Rice's politics, Ratray is madly in love with this woman for her beauty, her power, her confidence, and he decides (along with his filmmaker friend Doggart, a "Project Runway" producer) to trace her life from the racially divided community in Alabama where she was born to Colorado where she went to school and all points in between leading to Washington, D.C., serving first under George H.W. Bush and then his son. As silly as this concept may sound, the end result is pretty solid. In between Ratray's ridiculous love songs (and accompanying music videos) proclaiming his love for her, we actually do learn a great deal about Rice, including some supreme educated guessing on her present-day attitudes toward torture, the war in Iraq, and, yes, even her sexual history...or lack thereof. I was surprised to hear that she was childhood playmates with one of the four little girls killed in the now infamous church bombing in 1963 Birmingham, an incident that profoundly changed her life. The film also features the first and only interview with the former Denver Broncos player who was engaged to Rice in her college years. He sheds quite a bit of light on her attitudes about premarital sex or apparently even premarital French kissing; both were a no-no back then, and her former beau believes her attitudes haven't changed to this day. Courting Condi is educational and never boring. I had a lot of fun watching this one.” – Capone, Aintitcool.com[53]

“Una tragi-commedia musicale documentario”: così Sebastian Doggart ama definire la sua ultima “creatura” “Courting Condi”, che ai MIFF Awards si è aggiudicata il Cavallo di Leonardo come “Miglior Documentario”. Un premio ampiamente meritato, dato che si tratta di un’opera assolutamente fresca ed originale. – Milanoweb.com

“Supremely comic, deliriously tragic.” – Newcityfilm.com[54]

"Within the invention of the "musical-docu-tragi-comedy" is an authentic portrait of an African-American princess who chose power over love." -- Laramie Movie Scope[55]

"There is information about Rice in this movie that you probably won't get anywhere else. On the one hand, this is a silly musical comedy. On the other hand, it is also serious documentary about a woman who seems to have sold her soul for power. This is an original and unique film with a split personality." -- RottenTomatoes.com[56]

"Endearing musical interludes and production values straight out of Hollywood... A real-life tragic rise and fall worthy of Shakespeare."- Non Vivant[57]

"Hilarious, a classic love story and a biopic like no other."- The Treasure Coast Tribune [11]

"Agreeing to let his close friend write and shoot a documentary about his unrelenting quest for love, Devin Ratray’s only term of condition is that he is aided in his desperate search to meet and ‘court’ the woman of his dreams, Condoleezza Rice. As the basis for a documentary piece, this in itself sounds utterly bizarre. Director Sebastian Doggart (who may too have some form of obsession with Rice, his next film coming in the form of another documentary entitled American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi) presents his truthful exploration of the largely unknown private life and upbringing of Condoleezza Rice wrapped in a thick layer of outlandish, Baren Cohen/Larry David style pseudo-documentary shenanigans... An illuminating documentary, encased in an outright eccentric shell, but yet one that somehow surprisingly succeeds in remaining informative, supplying a human soul to the political facade of Condoleezza herself." Cambridge Festival Daily[58]

"Courting Condi provides a rich background picture of the very private lady as she matures and emerges in political circles. Whatever side you're on, this is a clever documentary construction—a theatrical ruse to keep us amused while building a case against a cold-minded holder of high office. May the effort to distribute this film prove to be profitable." -Jules Brenner, Cinema Signals'[59] + "A ground-breaking new documentary, Courting Condi, about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice... reveals Rice in various guises - concert pianist, figure skater, orphan, football fan, virgin, oil-woman, liar, incompetent, war profiteer, and torturer. Courting Condi unveils a brand new genre - a musical docu-tragi-comedy. The press release states: “Think Borat meets Fahrenheit 9/11 meets Mamma Mia! It’s one musician’s attempt to win the heart of the world’s most powerful woman, Condoleezza Rice... Courting Condi has already won twenty-five awards on the festival circuit, and survived various attempts by the Bush Administration to shut it down... The film tells Rice’s tale through the eyes of a romantic musician trying to win her heart. Devin Ratray, who played Buzz in Home Alone, and is the star of the new action thriller, Surrogates, travels across America to find out about Bush’s chief confidante, whom Forbes rated as 2005’s most powerful woman in the world, and who has been tipped as a leading Republican capable of mounting a presidential challenge to Obama in 2012." Screen Africa.[9]

"In the trail of a multi-decadal obsession of teenagers with their unattainable silver-screen idols, an outstanding motion picture reached the audience of Cinema City festival [in Serbia], in the main competition program, Exit Point. This film reveals that even the most powerful woman in the world – an individual who nominally does not belong to the easygoing, blasé, 24-hour world of constant popular entertainment -- can inspire a maniacal obsession in a fan. This was impressively demonstrated in Courting Condi, the sumptuous "first ever musical docu-tragi-comedy" in the history of the Seventh Art, as the movie by Sebastian Doggart, a British director currently living in the USA, is correctly tagged. A likable, marginal, but good-natured portly musician Devin Ratray attempts to make his fantasies come true, a mission that even far more powerful and influential men failed to complete: winning the heart of former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice! Ratray will stop at nothing to achieve this. He risks breaking his neck on an ice skating rink. He travels across America in search of her cousins and friends from childhood and youth. He follows the practical advice of a skilled stylist, completely changing his image. He very successfully masters his dancing and singing skills. He engages himself in a game of American football (one of Rice’s great passions). He even manages to meet Condi's former fiancé! This exceptionally structured quasi-documentary, with many excellent soundtrack numbers, unpretentiously follows Devin's enthusiastic efforts to finally meet the object of his desires, with a witty slogan I'm a RICE guy!. The inevitable ruin of his megalomaniacal ambitions serves as a trigger for an incisive exploration of the career of the US president's foreign affairs advisor, in a completely different, very sharp and strongly counterpointed manner. Using the protagonist's emotional downfall as a justified dramaturgical device, the film’s trajectory begins with romanticized, quasi-official biography of a girl who, through Herculean efforts, first in academia, and then on the political stage, succeeded in overcoming two major starting handicaps in US society: her gender and her race. It evolves into a devastating portrayal of an individual who personally contributed to some of the greatest crimes committed in this new century. Doggart seems of the opinion that all her aforementioned, undisputed, professional achievements could not excuse her later transgressions. The abrupt change from the light-hearted and playful tone of the action to the serious documentary form only adds more weight to that accusation in this truly unique burlesque tragicomedy." -- Dejan Petrovic, Radio Beograd 3 and Gradina magazine [12] + “A heady mélange of styles, it includes several brightly animated musical numbers and a delightful cameo by Adrian Grenier of Entourage.” -- Salon.com.[45]

"One of the most creative films in years. I loved it."- Blog Talk Radio[60]

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