Some stories are made to be filmed. Cinema’s obsession with the double, with pairs, with doppelgängers, is a displaced obsession with irony. The double is defined by its negative space: the gap between what we expect to happen and what actually happens, between an institution’s ideals and its practices, between the thing and its representation. And what could be more suited to documentary and more naturally ironic than an unemployed Latino man from the Bronx who gets a chance to fulfil the American Dream of success and recognition, because he happens to look like the President?
In 2008, on the recommendation of a keen-eyed bartender, Louis Ortiz shaved off his goatee and transformed himself into the young, charismatic Senator from Illinois. Bronx Obama is documentarian Ryan Murdock’s feature debut, and follows Ortiz-as-Obama over the course of the Obama’s first term and the 2012 election.
Ortiz gets signed by an impersonator’s agency and travels the world starring as Obama in strange Japanese movies and even meeting the Dalai Lama. But some of his gigs, like performing “borderline racist” jokes as the after-dinner entertainment at right wing fundraisers, force him to consider wider questions of dignity and morality. Is he selling his soul? But isn’t that what all Presidents do?
Two years ago, Murdock produced a five-minute documentary for the New York Times website on ‘Bronx Obama’ (watch below). The scene in which Ortiz is in a dingy bar, surrounded by despondent and uninterested drinkers, watching Obama give a speech on the TV is the stuff of great documentaries. Let’s hope the full-length feature is just as good.
You can pre-order Bronx Obama on Vimeo before its release on 7th October 2014.
You can also catch it at the Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Festival in New York on 18th September, and the Calgary International Film Festival in Canada on 19th September.
Follow Bronx Obama on Twitter: @BRONXOBAMA