By the time the Clinton Presidential Center opens on Nov. 18, we should all be thoroughly tired of the election process (unless we end up with a repeat of Florida 2000, in which case, we might all be swimming the Rio Grande, leaving the country to the squabbling lawyers, and renouncing our citizenship). Still, Bill Clinton fans will probably appreciate a trip back to the blessedly uncontested election of 1992, courtesy of a new documentary by KATV Channel 7 news director Randy Dixon and marketing director Tim Vahsholtz.
Since early summer, Dixon, Vahsholtz and a small crew at KATV have been burning the midnight oil while working on a 40-minute documentary short called “396 Days.” Dixon is directing, while Vahsholtz will edit. The film chronicles Clinton’s first campaign for president, from the announcement of his candidacy to the night of the 1992 election. Drawing heavily on KATV archival footage, interviews with Clinton confidantes and media insiders, and memorabilia Dixon collected while a field producer for KATV, the documentary will be the one of the films shown at the Reel Film Festival, sponsored by the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute. The festival will run Nov. 16-19 at the Central Arkansas Library System main branch downtown (scheduled to premiere at 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, “396 Days” will headline a special series of films to celebrate the legacy of Bill Clinton and the opening of the Clinton Presidential Library).
Dixon said the idea for the documentary came to him in May, when he sat down with Clinton Presidential Library President Skip Rutherford to discuss Channel 7’s coverage of the opening ceremonies of the Clinton Library. In the process, Rutherford told him about the documentary festival keyed to the library’s opening day. Dixon had already been talking with archivists at the Clinton Foundation about the raw footage of Clinton’s candidacy in the KATV vaults, and the idea just clicked. “I just took that one step further and thought, well, we’ve got all this great footage, and a lot of people who are going to be here that week knew Clinton as president and not as a candidate.” Soon after, he approached the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute and gained a berth in the Little Rock festival. It’s been a scramble ever since.
Dixon says the hardest part has been paring everything down to fit the mandated 40-minute time slot — over 100 hours of raw footage from the KATV vaults, and around 25 long interviews Dixon conducted with Clinton insiders (Rutherford, Mack McClarty, and Bruce Lindsey, among others) and media personalities who covered the Clinton campaign in 1992 (former KTHV anchor Joe Quinn, Little Rock native and syndicated columnist Deborah Mathis, and Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley to name a few).
“That’s been the biggest challenge, keeping it short. We’re trying to use a technique of multiple images on the screen as people are talking and describing events,” Dixon said. “I want it to almost be an overload so you have to watch it more than once to catch everything.”
One thing Clinton fans might want to watch for, however, is the footage Dixon secured from former Clinton press secretary Mike Gauldin: over five-and-a-half hours of never-before-seen footage shot backstage at the 1992 Democratic National Convention and on election night in Little Rock. The film, Dixon reports, is a true behind-the-scenes look at that night from an insider’s viewpoint, with footage of the Clintons and their circle of advisers celebrating as election returns came in, riding downtown in the motorcade once the election had been called in Clinton’s favor, and scenes backstage before the president-elect appeared on the steps of the Old State House to give his victory speech.
(Gauldin still works for a federal agency in Washington. A former newspaperman, he contributes editorial cartoons to the Arkanasas Times.)
The week after its debut, at noon Sunday, Nov. 21, the film will be shown commercial-free on KATV.