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Nader seen as more than spoiler

People considering the most important Americans of the last 50 years would likely rattle off names like Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan.

Ask filmmaker Stephen Skrovan, and he would add Ralph Nader to the list.

Skrovan brings his Nader documentary, "An Unreasonable Man," to the Sundance Film Festival in 2006.

"He’s an unreasonable man because he’s a David fighting Goliath. He’s always questioning the powers that be," Skrovan said in an interview.

Nader rose to prominence as the nation’s best-known consumer advocate and, since the 1990s, he has become more famous as a presidential candidate. He runs the Center for the Study of Responsive Law in Washington.

First-time filmmaker Skrovan teamed with Henriette Mantel, who executive produced the documentary with Skrovan. Mantel worked for Nader in the 1970s and early 1980s in his Washington, D.C., office. In the mid-1990s, Skrovan remembered talking to Mantel about her stories from her days with Nader.

He was considering writing a sitcom about life in the office of a public-interest advocate but later made the documentary. Skrovan, who voted for Al Gore, not Nader, in 2000, normally writes television comedies, including "Everybody Loves Raymond." The film’s name comes from a George Bernard Shaw quote saying that progress is dependent upon unreasonable men.

Skrovan said Nader did not request oversight of the film’s contents and said that Nader detractors are shown in the documentary. Arch conservative Patrick Buchanan is featured, for instance, and Skrovan said Buchanan appears as a "fellow traveler" because he, like Nader, ran for the White House as an outsider.

The filmmakers interviewed about 50 people for the documentary and Skrovan said excerpts from 40 of the interviews are part of the movie. They spent 8 hours with Nader in Washington last July.

Nader talks about Election 2000 and Election 2004, when he ran for president. The 2000 election is especially notable because many Democrats claim that Nader’s campaign funneled votes from Democrat Al Gore, who lost the closely contested race to George W. Bush.

"He’s never been afraid of an argument," Skrovan said.

Skrovan, who said he voted for Gore in 2000, said Nader’s career should not be reduced to his presidential runs.

"There’s a dominant story out there: Ralph Nader’s a spoiler," he said, adding, "The story, from his point of view, is one that is worth telling."

Without holding political office, Nader has influenced legislation, Skrovan said. He argues that Nader’s legislative successes have been superior to those of presidents since the late 1960s. Only perhaps Lyndon Baines Johnson has a better legislative record in that period, Skrovan said.

"Many things we take for granted including seat belts, airbags, product labeling, no nukes, even the free ticket you get after being bumped from an overbooked flight are largely due to the efforts of Ralph Nader and his citizen groups," a synopsis of the film says.

"The future for him, I think, you just have to look at the past," Skrovan said. "He’s the Energizer Bunny."

"An Unreasonable Man" screens on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake City, Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre, Jan. 27 at Holiday Village Cinema at 10:45 p.m. and on Jan. 28 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City at 3 p.m.


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