Voting season is upon us, and political tensions are peaking across the country. Civil rights activists are up in arms. Social and mainstream media alike are highlighting questions of integrity in government institutions, influential figures and public servants.
These are some of the reasons why local filmmakers Michael Chandler and Sheila Canavan set out to tell the story of one of America’s most controversial and captivating public figures and lawmakers, former Democratic congressman Barney Frankof Massachusetts.
“Compared to What? The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank” portrays Frank as a “true leader and a passionate advocate for progressive values, gay rights, and the proper role of government.”
The Utah Film Center and the Grand County Public Library are teaming up to host a free screening of the film on Thursday, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m. at Star Hall, 159 E. Center St. Chandler and Canavan will appear at a post-fil question-and-answer session.
Frank was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980, and spent the next 30-plus years in public service. In 1987, Frank made history by “coming out” as the first openly gay congressman.
Chandler is well-known for his work on other documentary and feature films, including his Academy Award-nominated editing on Best Picture winner “Amadeus.”
Canavan – a nationally recognized attorney who specialized in consumer law and predatory lending fraud – worked with Frank when she was 19 and he was 27, and followed his career over the years.
Chandler shared Canavan’s admiration, and the couple began dreaming up prospects of filming a documentary on the private and public life of Frank.
In 2011, Frank announced his retirement.
“It’s now or never,” Canavan thought at the time.
Their hectic filming schedule began late that year, and they began shadowing the man Chandler calls a “perpetual motion machine” day in and day out.
“We would start filming him at 8 a.m., and he would still be going at 10 or 10:30 at night, and that was seven days a week,” Canavan said.
Chandler and Canavan say “Compared to What?” is not a partisan film.
Although Frank has a well-earned reputation as a feisty liberal, he also has a history of reaching across the aisle to work with the likes of former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, on bipartisan legislation. Chandler and Canavan also reached out to some of his Republican colleagues as they were making the documentary.
The film uses archival footage to chronicle Frank’s early years in the U.S. House, as well as his rise through the Democratic ranks that led him to a key leadership position as the chair of the House Financial Services Committee. Frank held that position at a critical time in U.S. history, as the global financial crisis hit, and Congress enacted key legislation aimed at putting the national economy back on track.
Frank once again made history when he tied the knot with his longtime partner Jim Ready – a moment that Canavan and Chandler captured on film.
“I think that he recognized the historical importance,” Canavan said.
Frank’s prickly yet charismatic wit fills the film with a refreshing and authentic sense of passion – for both the public sphere and his own personal freedom.
Canavan was relieved to find that, after all the years, Frank had not become jaded by his time in Congress.
“I really thought that he would be quite cynical,” she said. “[But] he isn’t like that. He is an eternal optimist.”
Chandler and Canavan say they are honored to have their work brought to the attention of the Moab community.
Utah Film Center Artistic Director Patrick Hubley said that Canavan and Chandler capture the spirit of one of the most colorful political figures in recent history.
“Their film provides welcome insight into this charismatic politician,” he said.
Local filmmakers’ movie about ex-congressman comes to Star Hall on Sept. 15
When: Thursday, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m.
Where: Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.