Carterland

UGA alumnus, Will Pattiz, and his brother, Jim Pattiz, will premiere their documentary, "Carterland," at the Atlanta Film Festival on the night of May 1. (Courtesy/Will and Jim Pattiz) 

Growing up, Will and Jim Pattiz said they had heard boasts of President Jimmy Carter’s character. But in regards to his presidency, the brothers heard comments that did not ring the same praise.

It was a mystery to Will, a University of Georgia alumnus, and his brother, Jim. As environmental activists and documentarians, the two saw much of Carter’s work to preserve public parkland and forestry. They were perplexed as to why the former president was perceived as a failure by some.

“Jim and I said to ourselves, ‘How can a guy who has done so much for the outdoors and conservation of the environment be considered a bad president?’” Will said.

Hence “Carterland,” the Pattiz brothers’ newest documentary exploring Carter’s presidency. The making of this film was a journey that took over two years, and what they discovered was not a disastrous presidency — but what they described as a misunderstood one.

Making of the film

This film wasn’t an easy undertaking. According to Jim, this was their first feature film project, as their previous work had been in short films. Over the course of filming, they had arranged interviews with over 30 different people, many of which were through cold calls.

“We were incredibly fortunate to get some really leading people out there to participate in this film like Tom Styer and sitting governments and Jay Inslee of Washington and Kate Brown,” Jim said.

Will’s alma mater, UGA, was also willing to assist the brothers in their research. The university offered them a location to film and full access to the staff on campus.

“[UGA] really helped us with the research. I mean, they really bent over backwards to make this film a reality,” Will said. “We are extremely grateful for everybody that helped out at the University for that.

Five different professors are featured in the film to discuss Carter’s administration.

Perhaps the most notable individual the brothers interviewed is none other than President Joe Biden. In the film, Biden recalls when he first met Carter, and how he was persuaded to endorse Carter in the ‘70s.

“Some of my colleagues in the Senate thought it was youthful exuberance on my part. I was exuberant,” Biden said in the film. “But as I said then, Jimmy’s not just a bright smile, but he can win and he can appeal to more segments of the population than any other person.”

In addition to finding interviews, they also had to research hundreds of hours of archival footage and more than 10,000 photographs at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta. Fortunately, their parents, both retired educators, were able to help them with this task. But Jim said that transferring these old mediums into digital media was a challenge.

Connections to current issues

Throughout their lengthy research process, the brothers said they came across surprising facts about Carter’s administration.

“I would say that the most surprising thing that I learned is definitely that, had President Carter gotten a second term, we very likely would not have a climate crisis today,” Will said. “Which is just a pretty unreal statement, but it’s one that we’ve supported by the evidence in this film.”

The climate crisis is not the only issue the film showcases. Will said the film is “somewhat episodic,” with each section focusing on a particular issue in Carter’s administration. These challenges still hold true in the current political climate, Will said.

“Each episode in the film … has become just unbelievably relevant from addressing racial inequality in this country to women’s rights to climate change. The list really goes on,” WIll said. “If you want to know what Joe Biden is going through right now, look no further than Jimmy Carter picking up the pieces after Watergate and Vietnam.”

Rough cuts of the film have already had private screenings, sparking commentary among viewers. Carter biographer and best-selling author John Alter stated that it was the “best, most important documentary about this much-misunderstood man." Meanwhile Walter Mondale, vice president to Carter from 1977 to 1981, stated that “it reminds us what a remarkable public leader President Carter has been all of these years.”

The Pattiz Brothers were, however, most touched by the words of former President Carter himself, who called the film “remarkable” and stated he was proud of what the brothers created.

“Hearing that from President Carter, I mean, what higher praise can you ask for?” Jim said.

The film will premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival on May 1 at 8:15 p.m., followed by a second public showing on May 2 at the Plaza Theater in Atlanta at 4 p.m. There is no current set plan for commercial release, but the brothers said that they are eager to get the film to UGA students, millennials and to all Georgians.