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Maker of Obama infomercial plies the family trade

By Carol Eisenberg

October 30, 2008 at 12:51pm

Davis Guggenheim is following in his father’s footsteps.

Guggenheim, who shot the Barack Obama infomercial which aired on seven television networks last night, is the son of Oscar-winning documentarian Charles Guggenheim, who chronicled presidential aspirants from Adlai Stevenson to Robert F. Kennedy.

The elder Guggenheim’s Robert Kennedy Remembered, made just after the senator’s assassination, was an emotional high point of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and won him his second Oscar. He also won for The Johnstown Flood, about the 1889 Pennsylvania flood, and A Time for Justice, about the civil rights movement.

Davis Guggenheim had already earned his own creds with An Inconvenient Truth, a film about former Vice President Al Gore’s efforts to warn people about global warming, which won a 2007 Academy Award for best documentary.

Now, he, too, is becoming a candidate’s Boswell. He initially signed on with the Obama campaign to shoot A Mother’s Promise, the biography of Obama that aired at the Democratic National Convention.

The latest exercise, which was shown last night, was a clever pastiche of the stories of everyday Americans, reassuring bits of biography (especially the scenes with Obama’s photogenic daughters), and a quasi-presidential address delivered from what looked like a country version of the Oval Office.

The ad, which opened with scenes of waving grain and closed with Obama’s live remarks from a speech in Florida, represents the campaign’s effort to hark back to the unifying themes of the senator’s 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote, which first put him on the political map.

“In six days, we can choose hope over fear and unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo,” he said. “In six days, we can come together as one nation, and one people, and once more choose our better history.”

Aides said that it cost an estimated $4 million to buy time on CBS, NBC, Fox, Univision, BET, MSNBC and TV One.

For Guggenheim, the work is a departure from recent projects, which included the HBO dramatic series Deadwood, and a feature film, Gracie, about a girl’s struggle to play competitive soccer, which he wrote, directed and produced. The film was based on the story of his wife, Harvard-educated actress Elisabeth Shue, with whom he has three children.

But then, it is of a piece with the family tradition.

Unlike many children of famous parents, Davis appears to make no effort to distance himself from his father, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2002. Asked about his first big break, for instance, he recalled his father waking him up in the middle of the night.

I was five. “You want to come to work with me?” We boarded a plane — it was Robert Kennedy’s Presidential campaign (he was doing the political film) weeks later he was assassinated. And my father made the Academy Award-winning film “Robert F Kennedy Remembered” from the footage he shot on the campaign. I was hooked forever.

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