It might be the halfway point between last year's midterms and this fall's off-year election, but there's certainly been no let-up in the frenetic bustle of political activity, nationally and in Colorado.
Whether it's the General Assembly charging toward its 120th — and final — day of this year's momentous session or the official start of the 2024 presidential contest with Joe Biden's campaign launch this week, hardly an hour goes by without new and breaking political headlines.
Throw in dynamic races for open mayoral seats in Denver and Colorado Springs and the relentless churn reflecting a fiercely divided electorate, and you've got a recipe for overload.
Sometimes, even the most devoted political junkies need a break from the news of the day.
For those who'd like to pause their intake — crimp the firehose, so to speak — without straying too far from the circus, we've assembled a line-up of some of the best civic-minded on-screen storytelling about the state's politics and politicians, whether produced on celluloid, videotape or digital bits.
Consider it a virtual Colorado political film festival.
Ranging from Hollywood thrillers to homegrown documentaries, these nine movies examine different aspects of the state's political milieu — covering campaigning, lawmaking and governing — with casts of characters that include towering historical figures, ordinary Coloradans and everything in between.
So pop a big bowl of popcorn, crack open a box of Good & Plenty, and settle in for some informative and entertaining viewing.
The Front Runner (2018)
Directed by Jason Reitman and starring Hugh Jackman, this dramatic adaptation of journalist Matt Bai's "All the Truth is Out" tells the story of the final weeks of Gary Hart's second presidential run in 1987, when the former Colorado senator tumbled from White House front-runner to also-ran. Fueled by rumors of Hart's extramarital relationships, aggressive reporters turned a tabloid-tinged spotlight on the candidate, changing forever how the press portrays politicians.
The award-winning feature premiered at the 2018 Denver Film Festival and offers a glimpse of the state's bygone political culture, including a handful of characters familiar to Colorado political veterans. Most of the action, however, plays out on the national stage, chronicling the pivot toward what Bai described in an interview with Colorado Politics as "the collision of entertainment and politics," resulting in leaders being treated like celebrities.
Gallagher: One of a Kind (2015)
This 67-minute documentary, written and produced by Denis Berckefeldt, tells the engaging and often laugh-out-loud story of larger-than-life Denver politician Dennis Gallagher, whose 44-year career in public service spanned decades in the legislature to a stint on Denver City Council and three terms as the city's auditor. Using interviews, photographs and archival footage, the film traces Gallagher's roots in North Denver — where the grandson of Irish immigrants excelled in forensics and studied Shakespeare and James Joyce at Regis College before returning to teach at the college for decades — to the state Capitol and city hall.
Widely known as the driving force behind the Gallagher Amendment, which capped residential property tax rates and was repealed by voters in 2020, Gallagher, who died a year ago, could captivate just about any room with his wit and fierce advocacy for the little guy, a cavalcade of contemporaries attest. Among those featured are current and former Denver mayors and Colorado governors, council members and state lawmakers, as well as Gallagher’s family and constituents.
The Last Bill, A Senator's Story (2017)
Former state Sen. Linda Newell offers an homage to the Colorado statehouse and the sometimes dramatic — but often tedious — process of making laws in this 26-minute documentary, which the Littleton Democrat produced during her final session in office. Granted unprecedented access, the filmmakers follow two bills — one to create a state suicide prevention plan and another to make it a crime to misrepresent a pet as a service animal — that take unpredictable paths to the governor's desk.
Running With My Girls (2021)
Director Rebekah Henderson tells the inside story of five women of color who ran for local office in Denver in this 97-minute documentary, recounting their journey from activists to candidates and — in a couple of cases — elected officials. Inspired when Shontel Lewis wins a seat on the RTD board, four of her supporters — Lisa Calderón, Candi CdeBaca, Shayla Richard and Veronica Barela — launch bids for mayor and city council, respectively, getting a crash course in grassroots campaigning on a shoestring and quickly learn how unwelcome outsiders can take on well-funded incumbents. A highlight of the 2021 Denver Film Festival, the movie garnered accolades for giving viewers an "unfiltered" look at how communities can build a new kind of political power.
Silver City (2004)
A biting political satire from director John Sayles, this 128-minute feature film stars Chris Cooper as the fictional Dickie Pilager, a bumbling candidate for governor who resembles George W. Bush and whose wealthy father — Colorado's senior U.S. senator, played by Michael Murphy — is bankrolling his run. The campaign, helmed by a Karl Rove-like figure played by Richard Dreyfuss, is plunged into chaos when Dickie hooks a corpse on his fishing line in a mountain lake while filming a campaign commercial, sparking an investigation that uncovers scandal after scandal.
Silver Dollar (1932)
This thinly fictionalized version of the rise and fall of 19th century Colorado mining magnate Horace A.W. Tabor — and his scandalous relationship with second wife "Baby Doe" Tabor, of barroom floor fame— stars a mustachioed Edward G. Robinson as Yates Martin, the storekeep who strikes it rich with a stake in a silver mine and then sets about buying respectability and public office with his wealth. "God made the Rockies, and God made mighty men to conquer them," the grandiose trailer solemnly declares, giving an indication of the tone of the 84-minute movie. After Martin's election as lieutenant governor, President Chester A. Arthur attends his lavish second wedding, and then in spite of being a divorcee, Martin manages to buy an appointment to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat before his wealth vanishes with the arrival of the gold standard.
Strong Sisters: Elected Women in Colorado (2016)
Produced by local filmmaker Laura Hoeppner and state Rep. Meg Froelich — before the Littleton Democrat won a seat in the legislature — this 74-minute documentary examines Colorado's history electing women to public office, starting in 1894, when voters elected three state lawmakers and Colorado's General Assembly became the first parliamentary body in the world to seat women. Featuring archival footage and interviews with more than 70 elected officials, historians, journalists and campaign strategists, the film explores how women have shaped the state's political landscape and asks why voters have yet to elect a female governer, U.S. senator or Denver mayor.
The Swamp (2020)
This 114-minute HBO documentary gives viewers an unusual behind-the-scenes access to three leading members of the House Freedom Caucus, including Colorado Republican Ken Buck, who navigates Capitol Hill with Matt Gaetz of Florida and Thomas Massie of Kentucky. Inspired loosely by Buck's book "Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption is Worse Than You Think," recounting his experiences as a new congressman, the film follows the three over the course of a tumultuous year as they bring to bear their conservative and libertarian-leaning principles alongside President Trump's echo of the call.
The Untold Story of Ralph Carr and the Japanese (2011)
Subtitled "The Fate of 3 Japanese-Americans and the Internment," this moving, 49-minute documentary, written and directed by Takuro Arai, tells how Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr defended the rights of Japanese Americans during World War II, when people of Japanese ancestry — including American citizens — were relocated to internment camps. The filmmakers accompany Robert Fuchigami to Camp Amache, an internment center in southeastern Colorado, to visit the barracks where his family stayed and later interview Carr's granddaughter, Catherine Lynch, and Mitchie Terasaki, who says Carr helped her land a job at the State Capitol, where she worked for more than 40 years.
Ernest Luning has covered politics for Colorado Politics and its predecessor publication, The Colorado Statesman, since 2009. He's analyzed the exploits, foibles and history of state campaigns and politicians since 2018 in the weekly Trail Mix column.
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