At Sundance, an uplifting story of a 'Fall to Grace'
05:00 AM, Jan 20, 2013
PARK CITY, Utah Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi knows from politics.
Her mother Nancy is the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and her grandfather was the mayor of Baltimore. So it’s not surprising she’s drawn to the political realm in her documentaries.
“I love the recovering politician,” said Alexandra, whose Fall to Grace had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday and will air on HBO in late March.
Fall to Grace is about former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey and focuses on his work as a spiritual adviser to female prison inmates. While the larger story is about his rehabilitation outreach, it also touches on the more sensational aspects of his political career, specifically his resignation following a sex scandal. He is remembered for a speech in which he, with his wife at his side, referred to himself as “a gay American.”
McGreevey opens up frankly in the film and talks about the emotional crisis he endured following his resignation, calling himself “a train wreck” and discussing how it felt to be gay growing up in a Catholic family.
But it’s his redemptive work with women inmates in New Jersey and his efforts to become an Episcopalian priest that now give McGreevey’s life meaning.
“He’s somehow trying to do good work to get forgiveness for being a politician,” says Pelosi, who admits to harboring a strong cynical streak about politics.
For his part, McGreevey talks with passion about the correctional system, citing that 1 out of 99 Americans are incarcerated and that the U.S. prison population accounts for 25% of the world’s imprisoned people.
Initially, however, he was unsure about giving Pelosi access to his life, pointing out that so much of it already had been covered by the media.
“I’m still not sure I got permission,” jokes Pelosi. “I was drawn to Gov. McGreevey because he’s a tabloid fixture in New York. I went to hang out with him in the jail and I went to hang out with him in jail again and I just kept going. I figured I’d keep going until he told me stop, and he never did.”
The film chronicles the charismatic McGreevey’s bond with young women, whom he counsels and then helps once they’re out of prison, whether it’s finding a job, reuniting with their children or just going out for a meal.
“Being in the closet is a prison of sorts,” McGreevey says. “I am that woman in jail.”
Following his political downfall and messy divorce, McGreevey searched for meaning in his life.
“I’ve always been cynical, so in the beginning I questioned his motivations,” says Pelosi. “Then I spent so much time with him in jail on Christmas Day, Easter, on Thanksgiving, on all the days that matter in your life. When you’d like to be home in your comfortable house and be with your family, Jim would go to the jail and be with those women.
“It was inspiring,” she adds, ”because most people don’t do anything good with their lives. They don’t help other people. I don’t. Most people don’t dedicate themselves to helping other people. Jim did.”
Nancy Pelosi was on hand for Alexandra’s Sundance debut, though she prepared to get on a plane Sunday to be back in Washington, D.C., for President Obama’s inauguration.
“Today, my husband and I are delighted to be here as mom and dad,” says Nancy, who has four other children. “Alexandra has been interested in communications since she was very young. She wasn’t particularly interested in the political side, more in the journalism side, as to what politics meant to people. I think she found politicians boring. “
Did she ever ask her mother for advice on the film?
“Absolutely positively not, nor would I suggest it,” says Nancy. “She’s objective. She just wants to tell the story.”
As for Nancy’s insider perspective on the Democratic ex-governor, “People need to know that Jim McGreevey was a powerful orator, a young attractive governor in his day. He won his election at a time when Republicans were winning in everything. He was committed to public service, so this was a big fall because he had so much promise. Then to take all the power and momentum that he had and put it into public service in a different way is a beautifully told story.”
As Alexandra sees it, his current role is that of a true public servant:
“What’s interesting is when he was governor he claimed he wanted to help people, but really he got wrapped up in his ego and his hubris and his own gratification. After he fell and he was nobody, he decided to go out and actually help people. That’s so ironic and so interesting.”