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PACmen: Political Campaign On A Wing And A Prayer


Sunday afternoon the New Hampshire Film Festival had the pleasure to show PACmen, Luke Walker’s documentary about the presidential campaign of Dr. Ben Carson, at 3S Artspace.

Walker produced and wrote the film based on the unlimited access granted to the two organizations behind Carson’s run – Extraordinary America and 2016 Committee. Both are Super PACs, Political Action Committees allowed by a 2010 Supreme Court decision to promote a candidate of their choice.

PACmen documents the ill-fated campaign that began when two organizations decided that Dr Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, would be an ideal candidate for the Republican party, given his “outsider” status and the prevailing atmosphere of anti-establishment feelings.

Carson, widely recognized for his achievements as a surgeon, his strong religious convictions, and the trenchant speech delivered at a National Prayer Breakfast, quickly rose to the top of the polls. His stature of a nice, well-educated person attracted people who never volunteered, donated, or even voted before. But nice guys, the documentary reminds us, never finish first. Unprepared for the media scrutiny, Carson faltered, making one gaffe after another and eventually withdrawing from the race.

Walker’s documentary excels at capturing dwindling hope. More interesting than the footage of Carson himself is that of the volunteers tasked with staging celebration dinners, packing and unpacking travel buses full of promotional literature, and soliciting funds through phone calls and going door to door. In between, they hold virtual prayer circles via conference calls. Most of them are propelled by a sincere desire to back a worthy candidate and hold on far longer than is reasonable.

When Carson begins to fall in the polls, his supporters double down on phone calls, ringing a celebratory bell each time they get a sympathetic response. But soon no amount of additional funds can keep the candidate in the race. Long after everyone stops taking Carson’s candidacy seriously, volunteers still pray – for a miracle.

PACmen offers a fresh look on the insides of a political campaign, questioning what makes a candidate and just what kind of people decide who the Americans will vote for when the fateful November comes around.

By Evgeniya Dame