Australian filmmakers are staging the American premiere of their documentary about U.S. presidential campaigning here in Iowa. “First Stop, Iowa” will be shown at The Varsity Theater in Des Moines this Friday night at 7:30.
John Barron, a radio reporter from Sidney, Australia, co-produced the documentary. “As outsiders coming in from Australia, we wanted to find out why Iowa was so important,” Barron says, “and that took us on an interesting journey.”
Barron knew Iowa had a “disproportionately large say” in who becomes president, but the documentary makers wanted to know why that was the case so he asked some candidates of the past. “The search to get those answers ultimately took us to see Senator George McGovern and to talk to him about the (1968) Chicago convention riots and the heartbreak that the Democrats felt that year after the deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy the anger that so many of the people who had come into the process that year felt that their votes hadn’t been counted and they wanted to change that,” Barron says. “And a big part of that change, of course, was making Iowa the first state to vote.”
Barron says the biggest surprise to him about covering the Iowa Caucuses was the passion he found among those who participated in the process. “I come from a country where it’s compulsory to vote. You have no choice, so there’s no great effort to get out the vote. There’s no great passion in the political process. There are no hot-button social issues that get drawn into the political fray to try and motivate people to vote so everybody just takes it as their civil duty and it’s all rather dull,” Barron says. “It’s anything but dull, of course, in Iowa in presidential election season.”
Barron describes his experience as an “eye-opener” that dispelled preconceived notions about U.S. politics. “These Americans, they have this huge task of electing the most politician on the planet, but, you know, half of them stay at home. They don’t really care,” Barron says. “Well, that’s what we learned is that Americans generally and Iowans in particular, they care a whole lot.”
Barron’s production company — Kitchen Table Productions — has shown the documentary in Australia and a few other countries, as that was their target audience. “What’s been really interesting about this has been the number of American friends who’ve seen the film so far and they’re saying to us, ‘Gee, I didn’t know that’s why Iowa came to have such a big role in the process…I didn’t know that this is what the Caucuses actually were,'” Barron says.
The documentary takes viewers inside a Caucus and includes interviews with Iowa political activists. Friday’s showing is the first time the documentary will be shown on a theater screen in the U.S. Barron spoke with Radio Iowa by phone from the Los Angeles airport, during a layover on his way to Des Moines for Friday’s premiere.