Last Night's Television: By The People: The Election of Barack Obama, Sat, BBC2
Conspiracy Files: Osama Bin Laden – Dead or Alive?, Sun, BBC2

Welcome to the party

In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the caucus-race is a competition with no fixed starting point and no finishing line, which concludes with the announcement that "everybody has won and all must have prizes."

An American caucus race – as depicted in By the People: the Election of Barack Obama – is only marginally less surreal, a bizarrely physical celebration of the people's will, during which voters cram into school halls and gymnasiums and try to amass the biggest crowd they can for their preferred candidate, coaxing and cat-calling to lure defectors to their ranks. It is – rather literally – a party game, but one into which staggering amounts of energy and money have often been poured. Amy Rice and Alicia Sams's behind-the-scenes documentary about the Obama campaign opened with the Iowa caucus, the first big test of the candidate's prospects and organisation.

Strictly speaking, though, Rice and Sams had started work a little earlier, fixing on Obama as a likely subject when he had yet to announce that he was running for candidate. When he said in the first scenes here, "I love elections... it's so much fun," he wasn't talking about his own race but those of the political colleagues he was campaigning for. And the fact that the film-makers were on board before the media frenzy really started almost certainly helped them to get a premium seat for the wild ride that followed. What they were hoping to do was make another The War Room, D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus's terrific documentary about the spin-doctoring behind Clinton's 1992 campaign. And though they didn't quite succeed – for reasons to do with the controlled professionalism of the Obama team – they still delivered a film that was a treat for election addicts and West Wing loyalists.

One pleasure was the compressed reminder that you got of the up-and-down drama of Obama's bid, from the euphoria of his unexpected Iowa triumph (following terrific hustings speeches and a massive volunteer effort) to the setbacks in New Hampshire and the potentially devastating revelations about Pastor Jeremiah Wright. The film emotionally captured the optimism of Obama's volunteers at a time when optimism was pretty much all they had going for them. "Wait... is he African-American?" said one vox-pop interviewee guilelessly, after being asked for her opinion of him. "That would be really cool if he was our next president then!" Meanwhile, another volunteer – only nine years old and already doing a stint on the phone banks– found that people can't even get their heads around the candidate's name, let alone his policies. The activists' joy when he wins – tearful and faintly incredulous – is that of people discovering that they can dream awake.

It reminded you too of just how good Obama could be on the stump, pulling out terrific speeches when he needed to and spotting the opportunity concealed within every setback. What it didn't do, barring a couple of passing moments, was get you very far behind the public face of the campaign. At one point, Obama had to leave a congratulatory message for Hillary, and it was impossible to believe that this moment wouldn't have been followed by a bit of sardonic banter among the entourage. Here, though, everybody stayed on message. And though there was a nice moment when Obama forgot his own policy proposals during a pre-debate rehearsal and teased himself ("Huh? I don't remember my plan," he said in a Forrest Gump voice, "but it's a really good plan") that was pretty much all you got in the way of backstage bloopers. Rice and Sams could boast of plenty of face time with the candidate – even squeezing into his suite with Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod just after his election has been confirmed – but, as fascinating as their film was, you never quite felt that they caught the candidate off duty. Which may, of course, be one of the reasons he won.

The Conspiracy Files film about Osama Bin Laden was a dubious affair, which gave regrettable amounts of air time to an obsessive 9/11 "truther" called David Ray Griffin. Griffinaving theorised that 9/11 was a government plot, naturally had to deal with that embarrassing video footage in which Sheikh Osama chucklingly owns up to the whole thing. The way he did that was, naturally, to suggest that the whole thing was a government hoax, and that Bin Laden actually died in the Tora Bora mountains years ago. All the subsequent tapes have been worked up as part of a nefarious special-effects programme, intended to create a distracting boogie man. Ray Griffin only got the airtime, as it turned out, so that Conspiracy Files could systematically work their way through his claims and dismiss them. But I think they grievously overestimated the capacity of common sense to mop up the pollution of paranoid fantasy that they actively helped to spread around in the first 45 minutes of the film.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk