Mayor Pete, the cinéma vérité documentary about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his historic presidential campaign, initially started out as a film chronicling a long-shot candidate’s political goals and ambitions. But according to director Jesse Moss, the film’s focus soon shifted, revealing an entirely different story.
“As a documentary filmmaker, the idea of being inside a presidential campaign and having access to the candidate himself struck me as a really interesting way into that political moment and what it means to run for president,” Moss says of his initial idea.
“With Pete, I was also interested in the fact that he was a married gay man launching himself into presidential politics. That seemed like potentially a historic story to be a part of, to witness. We didn’t know where the story would take us, but I thought, ‘Well, Pete is a young gay man who’s a mayor in South Bend, Indiana. He’s probably not going to go far, but he’s got an interesting profile, and maybe there’s a one percent chance he becomes president. Let’s see what happens.'”
Initially, Moss viewed Buttigieg as an underdog with whom viewers could sympathize as he battled his way through the Democratic Party’s nomination process — something of a common theme in Moss’ past works.
“If you look at my work, say recently with The Overnighters, and maybe a little bit with Boys State, I think you’ll see they are often about men who are conflicted,” Moss says. “Those films explore the space between people’s public face and their private selves.”
Mayor Pete chronicles Buttigieg’s presidential run from behind the scenes, beginning with the earliest days of his fledgling campaign through his rise in the polls, his historic win in the Iowa caucuses, and his eventual exit from the race prior to Super Tuesday.
Perhaps more importantly, the film delves not only into Buttigieg’s relationship with his husband Chasten, but his continuing emotional evolution. Viewers see Buttigieg, a private person often hailed for his even-keeled nature, struggle with opening himself up to others, showing passion, and exposing his vulnerability.
Moss attributes much of that ongoing struggle, as addressed in the film, to the years that Buttigieg was forced to closet himself — both professionally and personally — and suppress his emotions.
“What strikes me when I watch the film is the intimacy and the relationship with Chasten, the human portrait of Pete, which you see facets of during the campaign,” Moss says.
“One of the great values of the film is it really brings us inside their very loving relationship, which is both old-fashioned as a married couple supporting each other through this incredible journey that they’re on, but also radically new, as a gay couple on the national political stage, negotiating both privately and publicly what it means to be gay men on this stage — and for Pete himself, to talk about his identity, but to not let that overshadow everything else that the campaign is about.”
Moss went into Mayor Pete “wanting to make work that would be a purely political story about a campaign,” but uncovered something else.
“What I discovered was a love story at the center of this,” he says. “How Pete’s relationship with Chasten really opened up a way of seeing Pete, of humanizing him, making him a three-dimensional person.
“And I love that journey I was taken on. Chasten and Pete let me into their relationship and showed me moments of intimacy that are sometimes really moments of tension, and sometimes just sweet, tender moments that you would find in any marriage or relationship. That, to me, is the surprise of the film.”
Mayor Pete is available on Amazon Prime starting Friday, Nov. 12. Visit www.amazon.com.
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