2019 SXSW

Beto O’Rourke Joins Director David Modigliani at Documentary’s World Premiere

by Ashley Morton

The Texan politician, known best for his near-win against Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate race, was welcomed onstage for a panel following an emotional SXSW screening.


The HBO Documentary Running With Beto had its world premiere on Saturday, March 9 at the 2019 South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. The film, which follows Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 run to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, was met with overwhelming enthusiasm and tears. O’Rourke and his wife Amy joined filmmaker David Modigliani, as well as several other film participants and contributors for a Q&A at the event. Here are some of the highlights.

It’s a story about politics second, human beings first.

Both the filmmaker and the Congressman had a common interest in rehumanizing politics. Modigliani was inspired by Beto’s desire to make his campaign about connecting with other people: “Putting human beings first, person-to-person … I was really drawn to that aspect of the story.”

...and it all started with baseball.

Modigliani explained he first met O’Rourke at first base — during a game of the Texas Playboys Baseball Club. After Beto agreed to the documentary, the filmmaker spent time on the road with both the family and campaign without a camera — which really helped build “a relationship of trust,” commented Amy.

The other voices are just as significant to the narrative.

Joining Modigliani and Beto on stage were three other subjects of the film: Shannon Gay, Amanda Salas and Marcel McClinton. Each brought a personal story to help represent a political issue close to Beto’s heart and campaign. Feminist Gay, for women’s rights and care for veterans; Salas, contending with her conservative parents’ feelings on illegal immigration; and McClinton, a survivor of the Santa Fe High School shootings and advocate for gun-control. “Beto broke down fundamental ideas in a way people could understand … making them human issues instead of right or left issues,” said Salas.

“[It’s] a mark of them walking the walk when it comes to transparency.”
— David Modigliani

700 hours of footage was shot.

“We started editing 6 months before the election ... which really helped us figure out what we were doing right and what we could do better. [It influenced] some of the choices in the closing months … we were able to ask ‘what do we need?’ rather than shooting every single aspect,” shared Modigliani. And while the O’Rourkes saw a draft of the film before it premiered, they did not get final cut.

“Candidates talk about transparency all day long … so we knew the only way to do this was to have full independence from the campaign,” explained the filmmaker. “They wouldn’t have control over the cut or access to the footage, and I think that was really brave, but also a mark of them walking the walk when it comes to that aspect of transparency.” Beto added, “We knew this was their film and we trusted them with everything.”

At the end (and beginning) of the day, it’s all about a good story.

“Every day to me of making a film is ‘What’s the story?’” said Modigliani. An audience member at the screening commented he was “emotionally overwhelmed watching,” explaining that the documentary made him “forget I was watching a film about a politician.” And it’s true, the film is bigger than even the man it follows. It touches on all of the “little people” who can help create change, and the real issues our country — not just the state of Texas — is facing today. Despite the 2018 elections being long-past, the foregone conclusion of the film, Beto’s loss to Ted Cruz, does not lessen its importance, impact or ability to inspire, but rather marks his near-win as just the beginning.

Running With Beto will premiere on HBO May 28.