For Whom the Bell Tolls…

For Whom the Bell Tolls…

Photo credit: Ralph Alswang for HBO

In memory of Senator John McCain.

“I always say I’ll be short,” said Senator Lindsey Graham at the special screening of HBO’s new documentary on Senator John McCain at the United States Capitol Visitor Center, “and John says, ‘Well you are.'”

“To explain John McCain, I can do it in one story; Roberta McCain, his mother. She goes to Europe, she’s 90 years old, young. She tries to get a rental car. They say, ‘You’re too old.’ She went and bought the car. And drove around Europe.”

Joe McCain (Sen. McCain’s Brother), Roberta McCain (Sen. McCain’s Mother), Richard Plepler (Chairman and CEO of HBO)

“The bottom line is that this movie and all the books are about a love affair with America that began at 17 that will never end as long as there’s breath in John McCain. The reason our colleagues are here is because they respect John, and if you have not been on the other side of John that means you didn’t do much in the Senate. So all of you are here understanding the good, the bad, and the brilliance of John McCain.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Mitch McConnell, HBO Ceo Richard Plepler, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, filmmaker Peter Kunhardt

“The movie is excellent. It tells the story – warts and all. And the one thing that I like most about John McCain is he doesn’t run away from the shortcomings. But we’re here today because when you balance out John McCain’s life, it is something to admire. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been very lucky to be in his shadow and to be his friend.”

“To our colleagues from the Senate, thank you for coming, it means the world. To the staff members who worked in his wake, thank you very much for your loyalty. Enjoy the movie.”

Remarks also featured co-hosts Senator Mitch McConnell, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Charles Schumer.

For six time Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker Peter Kunhardt, the project was a family affair with his equally accomplished sons Teddy and George who form the principals of Kunhardt Films that produces for HBO, ABC, Discovery, AOL and PBS. You may recognize their other most recent work: The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee that premiered at the Newseum. For this particular film, it was Teddy who came up with the idea.  “I was a little bit skeptical, but I had a conversation with HBO about it and they jumped on it,” Peter told Hollywood on the Potomac. “I think that they look at it from a younger point of view. They saw McCain from a perspective of remembering him from his last presidential campaign, where as I saw him as coming back from Vietnam. The two perspectives – two generational perspectives – just seems to work.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of  Kunhardt Films archives

We were curious as to whether they came up with the idea before or after the diagnosis of the Senator’s illness. “We had done a film on Senator Ted Kennedy after he was diagnosed,” said Teddy. “When The New York Times article came out that John was being diagnosed with glioblastoma and that the time frame was twelve months, something just clicked. So I quickly called up Peter and George and said, ‘What do you guys think?’ They said, ‘I love it, let’s see if HBO’s interested.‘ Peter calls up HBO and within 3 weeks of that article coming out we were down there filming. We were just finishing up The Newspaperman and we were working on Martin Luther King. We were tired and we didn’t know if we had it in us at first to do such a quick turnaround. But, we got totally pumped and totally into it and just made the time.”

Joe and Roberta McCain    Photo credit: Courtesy of NBC News

We asked each one to weigh in on what they learned about Senator McCain that they didn’t know before. “I was most impressed by the fact that he had a consistent message that goes back decade after decade and that what he’s saying today seems to really resonate for the country because there’s so much political turmoil going on that it looks like he tailored his message for this era. If you go back in time, he has been completely consistent. He’s been saying the same things decade after decade and I give him great credit for that. I was unaware of it before we made this film and it’s a testament of his character,” said Peter.

“I knew the John McCain of 2008,” added Teddy. “That was my real knowledge of him. I always had sort of the slight understanding, you know, that he was a POW. I knew he was hawkish. But, it wasn’t until we dissected the guy’s life that really brought him down to a human level that you could see that he’s just like one of us. He has screwed up time and time again. But, he’s made up for those screw ups. He’s a compassionate human being that tries to do the right thing. And, I would say, most importantly, the guy’s given his entire life to serving this country whether it was the first half of his life in the military or the second half of his life in government, you know his talk isn’t cheap when he says ‘country first.’ So, I was impressed with that.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Daily Mail

“John is someone who is America,” concluded George. “He fights for everything that’s right and he fights as hard as he can. And, yes, he has his quirks, he has things that he’s done wrong that he’s talked about with us and reflected on. But, at the end of the day, he has his moral code that comes back from being from the military family from his background. And, I learned a lot just about how he, when he feels he’s right about something, he’ll do whatever it takes to stick to his guns. He believes in country first.”

HBO’s new documentary takes an in-depth look at the life of John McCain, from his time as a POW in Vietnam to his three decades of service in the US Senate. Don’t miss the premiere of John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls on Monday, May 28 at 8pm on HBO.