No, it's not Will Ferrell doing his best impersonation of Dubya as fratboy on Saturday Night Live. It's the President himself in Journeys with George, a much-buzzed-about new documentary about Bush's 2000 campaign for the White House. Catching the then governor of Texas in remarkably unguarded moments, the grainy 76-minute film is basically "a home movie," says Alexandra Pelosi, 31, who covered the campaign as an NBC news producer and shot the film entirely on her small $1,000 Sony MiniDV camcorder. "This is my home movie about my road trip with this man in his race to become leader of the free world."
It is also an extraordinarily candid portrait of a politician who makes lots of funny faces and "looks like just another businessman goofing around on a trip," says critic Richard Roeper of Ebert & Roeper, a big fan of the film. "It's the most unvarnished look you'll ever get at George W." More remarkable still is that the woman who shot such unprecedented footage of the Republican candidate is a self-confessed "liberal Democrat" and the daughter of Democratic California congress-woman Nancy Pelosi, 62, the House minority whip and the highest-ranking woman in Congress. Before Journeys' debut at the SouthbySouth-west Film Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 8, there were reports that its evocation of Bush's hard-partying past worried White House staffers, who feared it played into his pre-Sept. 11 reputation as a lightweight. But Deputy Press Secretary Anne Womack says the White House isn't displeased. "It's just another example of what a good sense of humor [Bush] has," she says. "The President is not upset."
Others, however, are. "What can you expect but a hatchet job if it comes from the family of the most important Democratic woman in Congress?" asks a White House staffer who prefers anonymity. Pelosi denies her film was politically motivated, while her mother, who recently ran into Bush at the White House and mentioned her daughter's documentary, says the President "laughed and said he'd enjoyed her on the campaign trail. He was very warm and friendly about it."
The most fascinating character in Journeys just might be Pelosi, known for her loud purple outfits and pit-bull personality ("You're like a head cold," Bush jokingly tells her). Pelosi was the most extroverted of five children "in a very emotional, talkative Italian family," says her sister Christine, now 35 and a lawyer. Raised in San Francisco by Nancy and Paul, an investment banker, Pelosi grew up stuffing envelopes and helping out at Democratic fund-raisers. Even back then she was the one pointing a camera at relatives at family events.
After graduating from Los Angeles's Loyola Marymount College in 1991 and getting a master's in media studies at the University of Southern California, she worked as a reporter in Washington, D.C. A few years later, as an associate producer for NBC's Dateline, "she was extremely resourceful," says Josh Mankiewicz, a Dateline correspondent. "Once she starts working on something, she can't stop." In early 2000 an NBC news executive called to ask if she had any pets. When Pelosi answered no, NBC assigned her to cover the Bush campaign.
She took along her camcorder with the intention of making a film—"a video diary," she says, "with or without [Bush's] participation." Distant at first, Bush soon warmed to Pelosi, teasing her about her love life and allowing her to shoot him in informal moments; he even suggested the film's title.
Editing 70 hours of raw footage in her one-bedroom Greenwich Village apartment was another challenge, particularly after Sept. 11. "All of a sudden watching Bush roll oranges down the aisle of a plane felt wrong," says Aaron Lubarsky, 31, the film's editor and coproducer. They stuck with it and, says Lubarsky, produced a film "that has a certain innocence to it."
Ironically, the single Pelosi is guarded about her own image, preferring not to discuss a former fiancé or other personal matters. Running her own production company since leaving NBC last year, she steers conversations back to her extraordinary home movie, which she hopes will be picked up by HBO. "It makes Bush look like a human being," she says. "He doesn't have the luxury of being able to goof around. It's too bad. I miss that Bush."
Hilary Hylton in Austin, Colleen O'Connor in Washington, D.C, Rebecca Paley in New York City and Kelly Williams in Chicago