Jonathan Demme's leisurely documentary is as much about the thorny subject of the 39th president's 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid as it is a portrait of the peanut farmer/nuclear physicist turned professional humanitarian from Plains, Georgia.
Carter, who was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize "for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development," began pursuing his humanitarian concerns full-time after he failed to win a second term in the White House. Carter eventually also began writing books addressing high-profile political issues, and Demme accompanied him on a lengthy promotional tour in support of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which argues that Israel's ongoing occupation and isolation of Gaza and the West Bank are insurmountable roadblocks on the journey to lasting peace in the Middle East. Though Carter's subject is the very definition of a hot-button issue, much of the ensuing controversy centers on his use of the word "apartheid," which draws an explicit parallel between Israel's treatment of Palestinians and the systematic persecution and disenfranchisement of black South Africans by the white South African government. Carter is regularly and virulently accused of being at the very least anti-Israel and at worst anti-Semitic; he responds to his critics with clear, articulate explanations of his argument, couched in a tone of unflagging politeness — Demme does catch him calling one interviewer "obnoxious," but only after he's hung up the phone. Demme also documents protests, television and radio interviews, and a brief skirmish over the provenance of one of the book's illustrations, as well as Carter's activities — building homes in New Orleans through Habitat for Humanity, attending a barbecue in Plains, meeting at the Atlanta-based Carter Institute, leading church services, and giving a lecture at Brandeis University after a contentious debate sparked by outspoken law professor Alan Dershowitz's demand that Carter's appearance be made contingent on a public debate about the book (it wasn't).
The minutiae of Carter's book tour isn't always enthralling, but his personality drives the film: pious, stubborn, devoted to his wife, curious, professional, warm and yet slightly removed from the fray, conciliatory, meticulous, self-effacing, funny, decent, intellectually rigorous and firmly committed to his positions. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh