The idea lacks certain logic. Why would a documentary film producer give microphones to adults with disabilities and then have them chase politicians? And attempting to describe their disabilities seems the wrong way to explain what they have accomplished with their political film, How's Your News? The more sensible approach is to simply say they bring a different perspective that is a by-product of their disabilities and is denied to most of the population.
Except when these three reporters go after politicians on camera.
The news is in the interaction with the three stars of the film. Bobby Bird, who was born with Down Syndrome, is filled with words and emotions but only his feelings come out of him without entanglement. His speech is mostly impossible to understand. Bobby, however, is full of excitement and cannot contain himself when he sees a chance to put Michelle Bachmann on camera. The congresswoman, who was a candidate for president, leans over and squeezes Bird's cheeks like he is but a child. Instead, he is a 50-year-old man to whom she has just condescended, in spite of her claims of sensitivities and understandings of disability.
These are the types of insights that abound in How's Your News? The politicians and media stars don't get to pontificate because they are dealing with people who are more honest than the rest of us and make clear they are not interested. In fact, they are more intrigued by their own opinions. Susan Harrington, who is one of the reporters, interviews a delegate at the Republican National Convention and is informed that it is a woman's "first duty to be a wife and supporter of her husband." Unmoved, Ms. Harrington explains that she's an "Obama Mama" and she offers a few reasons why. The look on the Republican woman's face is worth the price of the film's download.
How's Your News? is a concept created by director Arthur Bradford, who was working with a group of adults with disabilities at a summer camp in Massachusetts and decided, as part of a development project, to give them cameras and microphones and have them hit the street to interview people. The original clips and a few subsequent pieces were so compelling that they caught the attention of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park. Intrigued by the potential of the concept, the two funded a documentary of How's Your News? and then helped promote a six part series broadcast by MTV. Those episodes were the story of a cross-country bus trip with the reportorial crew that took them to events like Austin's South By Southwest music festival where their How's Your News? band performed before a raucous crowd at the famed Stubb's Barbecue outdoors venue.
The Election 2012 version of How's Your News? is a documentary about the three reporters attending to two presidential nominating conventions. Nobody seems more pleased by being in the midst of all the Americana than Jeremy Vest. His unbridled enthusiasm and unabashed personality lead to many of the film's most charming and entertaining scenes. One of the characteristics of his Williams' Syndrome, which is often difficult to view as a handicap of any kind when watching Vest, is an unrelenting optimism and cheeriness that might not serve a more traditional form of journalism. It is hard not to smile when watching Vest, standing alone in a balcony above CNN's Wolf Blitzer, simply calling out to attract the anchorman's attention. Jeremy only wants recognition of his presence; information isn't required from Blitzer.
One of the most engaging moments of the film comes when Vest introduces himself to strategist Karl Rove outside of an elevator. The goal was a photo op, not an interview, and as Vest poses with a momentarily gracious Rove, he tells the cutthroat consultant that his dad is a big fan. When he gives Rove his dad's name, Rove tells Jeremy that he knows his dad, a standard political ploy that excites Vest, who takes Rove and the rest of the world at its word. Jeremy calls home, excitedly, to tell his mother he has talked to Rove. You can tell by his expression that his mother is explaining how disgusted she is by Rove's politics and Jeremy looks slightly more baffled when he calls his father from the bus to share the news. Vest is more than simply a reporter, however, and has the presence and complex look of a character actor. The HYN bus might take him to Hollywood.
The MTV series of How's Your News? was not renewed and its few critics said the idea of using adults with disabilities in these roles made for uncomfortable viewing, which is, perhaps, the entire point of the art in this film. What Susan, Jeremy, and Bobby show us is ourselves, and we often don't want to see. Look at Ann Coulter and Ms. Bachmann, who ran from their cameras, and Rick Santorum, whose aides kept brushing away the HYN crews because they were late or very busy. Rudy Giuliani, however, smiles when he is asked his name after agreeing to an interview, and Geraldo Rivera interrupts his broadcasts to talk to HYN. Those moments, however, aren't what really drive this documentary. Anyone with a piece of soul has to be touched and enthused by watching Jeremy spontaneously sing the national anthem while riding an escalator or hearing Susan break out into song or watching Bobby interrupt Jeremy as he prepares to record an on camera segment, grab his head with both hands, and plant a kiss on Jeremy's cheek.
There is no narrative story to How's Your News? beyond the three stars and the camera following their chase of names and celebrity, and there are slow moments, but the production is wildly intriguing simply for its conceptual courage. Jeremy, Bobby, and Susan might make you uncomfortable, but they will also make you smile, and when the film has concluded you are likely to ask yourself a few questions about the way you view the world.