Documentarian Amy Rice Presents “By The People” to New York Film Academy Students

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This July, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Producing and Documentary Filmmaking departments presented a screening of By the People: The Election of Barack Obama followed by a Q&A with director Amy Rice. The discussion was moderated by Producing Chair Neal Weisman and Documentary Chair Andrea Swift.

Producing Chair Neal Weisman, Director Amy Rice, and Documentary Chair Andrea Swift

Producing Chair Neal Weisman, Director Amy Rice, and Documentary Chair Andrea Swift.

The nearly two-hour film documents the years leading up to the election of Barack Obama. Rice gives viewers an inside look into Obama’s evolution from little-known Illinois Senator to symbol of change for a generation.

Calling it one of her favorite documentaries, Rice was greatly influenced by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s The War Room, about Bill Clinton’s campaign for president in 1992. By the People premiered in August of 2009 on HBO, and last week’s screening gave younger students a look at how the 2008 election differed from recent elections.

Rice began her career as a cinematographer, working with her eventual co-director on By the People, Alicia Sams. The documentarian talked about the appeal of this type filmmaking, saying, “There was something very organic about documentary. Just pick up your camera and go shoot and follow the story as it’s unfolding in front of you.” 

"By the People" director Amy Rice

By the People director Amy Rice.

After her other brother told her about Obama before he was well-known, Rice watched his speeches and read his book, Dreams from My Father. “I was just naturally obsessed with his story,” she says.

Her and her team used a trip to Africa during a congressional delegation trip as a testing ground. From there, the film follows the lead-up to the 2008 election and Obama’s transition from presidential long shot to favorite. Rice discussed the difficulties that began to arise as the presidential candidate’s popularity increased. For instance, at one point the film crew was unable to use a boom mic due to secret service safety concerns. Rice pointed out another instance deep into the campaign where security tried to stop her from filming: “I looked so horrified that he was trying to stop me from getting my final shot.” 

The filmmaker also dropped some words of wisdom on the students throughout the course of the discussion. One thing she stressed was to “always say ‘yes’ to all film opportunities.”

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Amy Rice for her time and the illuminating discussion with the Producing and Documentary Filmmaking departments.

Watch the trailer below and/or purchase the film here.

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