I've seen a lot of documentaries in the past few years about the decline of small towns and rural areas, how the population has dwindled and local businesses have closed shop and so forth. So it was strange to watch the opening sequences in the documentary Crawford, where the small Texas town starts to flourish when George W. Bush (then-governor, now President) buys a ranch in the area.
Crawford examines the effects on the town and its residents from the day Bush bought the Prairie Chapel Ranch in 1999 through 2007. At first, everyone in the town couldn't have been happier, especially once Bush became U.S. President. Businesses thrived as tourists and media flocked to the town, the local school band traveled to Washington, DC to perform at the inauguration, and the minister of the Baptist church felt confident that any day now, the First Family might join his congregation. However, a lot of things can change in half a decade, and Cindy Sheehan's 2005 protest in Crawford triggers even more radical effects.
The documentary focuses on a few Crawford residents: a high-school student who has been inspired to think about politics after performing with the band at inauguration; his history teacher, who's been trying to encourage students to see all points of view politically (and getting flak from conservatives as a result); a woman who opened a gift shop downtown that features all kinds of bizarre Presidential souvenirs; a longtime resident who works as a horse breaker. Crawford shows us their daily lives and involves us in their daily lives before we find out anything about their political views, so we see them as people and not simply as conservative/liberal. Some of the stories become very personal and touching by the film's end.
The structure is a clear and straightforward timeline, which provides a strong backbone for the anecdotes and personalities in the film. It's interesting to hear from the townspeople with their views on how Crawford has been portrayed by the media. In one scene, they show us where TV reporters usually stand for shots of Crawford that show a farm in the back, implying that this is how Bush's ranch looks ... and then we get a better idea of what we're actually seeing and how it measures up with the real thing. That expresses Crawford as a whole -- the film wants to show us the town that we don't see on television, the part that plays dominoes in the town hall and goes to school or work every day and wonders how all of this media exposure will affect the town's traffic and business.
It would have been too easy for director David Modigliani to make Crawford all about politics, and to paint the town in shades of red with spots of blue. Crawford could have been a propaganda piece for one political side or another. Instead, he wants to show us human beings, who are a lot more complicated than that, and the way that political strategies touch their lives.