Mitt Romney returns to Park City for another starring role this week.
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee and the chief executive of the 2002 Winter Olympics is featured in a Sundance Film Festival documentary that follows his political career as a White House hopeful. It starts in the early days of his unsuccessful 2008 bid for the Republican nomination to his Election Day loss to President Obama in 2012.
The documentary, entitled "Mitt," will premiere at Sundance, an intriguing festival for a Romney documentary to screen. The political leanings of the Sundance crowd are decidedly to the left, but Romney continues to enjoy wide popularity in the area.
The filmmaker, Sundance veteran Greg Whiteley, trailed Romney from Christmas eve in 2006 until the night of the election in 2012.
"We begin in Park City and looks like we're ending up in Park City," Whiteley said in an interview.
Whiteley, a 44-year-old who went to college at Brigham Young University, taped perhaps hundreds of hours of footage for the film, using extraordinary behind-the-scenes access to capture the Romney campaign. He did not know the Romney family beforehand, first meeting one of Romney's sons, Tagg Romney, to talk about a documentary. The younger Romney was supportive, but the father rejected the idea, Whiteley said.
He committed himself to staying out of the way during the two campaigns, keeping to himself as the Romney camp pursued the White House. The cameras rolled as Romney, preparing for a debate, picked up garbage left by his grandkids. It is one of the moments in the film that offers a different perspective on him than some likely saw during the political contests.
"There is a certain persona that the campaign is pushing out into the world and then there is a certain way that that spin is being interpreted by the media," Whiteley said. "And I think somewhere in the translation, you're getting a very flat, two-dimensional image. I couldn't tell you why that is."
The 2012 campaign, pitting Romney against the incumbent Democratic president, Barack Obama, plays out prominently in the documentary. One of the campaign events Whiteley did not attend was the function where Romney was filmed making a comment about the 47 percent of people who depended on the government, a remark widely seen as hurting the campaign. Whiteley said he earlier stopped attending events like that one since he was not taping compelling footage. He declined to identify a turning point in the campaign but said many see the 47 percent comment as being one.
"Most people will take a look at 47 percent as a turning point. I happen to think elections are so nuanced," he said. "There are so many battles, both seen and unseen, so many strategies that are deployed, both covertly and overtly, that I just think it's impossible to pick a turning point."
Whiteley was with the candidate on Election Day. Romney started seeing troubling early exit polls after waking up that day "believing he was going to win." He said the candidate started to realize Obama would be re-elected earlier on Election Day than has been reported. Whiteley did not offer an opinion of the reason for the loss.
"I think he remained at least fairly optimistic through much of the night, which was uncharacteristic for him, because he was always a realist on election night," Whiteley said.
"Mitt" is showing in Sundance's documentary premieres program. Scheduled screenings are: