Fritz: The Walter Mondale Story premiers in DC

Former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale. MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley.

Filmmaker of Mondale doc: “He’s just like a regular guy”

The documentary “Fritz”, made by Frozen Feet Films, tells the story of Mondale’s personal life and public legacy, featuring rare archival footage, family films and interviews with President Carter, Vice President Al Gore, Geraldine Ferraro (his running mate in the 1984 presidential election), family and friends. This film reveals a man who never wavered in his commitment to civil and human rights, and a man who stayed grounded in his Minnesota roots. Along the way, he changed the role of vice president, selected the first female vice presidential candidate in history and became a living example of what a true public servant looks like. The documentary is narrated by Walter Mondale’s daughter, Eleanor Mondale.

“Fritz: The Walter Mondale Story” had its Washington premiere at George Washington University on Wednesday Sept. 23. Melody Gilbert, the Minnesota-based documentary filmmaker who made “Fritz,” spoke to The Hill about the project.

St. Paul film director Melody Gilbert.

Q: Why did you decide to do this documentary?

I made this film because I was asked by the Humphrey Institute to film a class that Mr. Mondale was teaching. This was an outgrowth of me filming that class. I was sitting there thinking, “Nobody knows this stuff? This is stuff that more people should know about.” And I was struck by how humble he was.

Here was this vice president of the United States chatting with these young people.

The Mondales are like the Kennedys, but they’re sort of the Minnesota version of the Kennedys — low-key. You’ll see Mr. Mondale walking around the lake with his dog. It’s very Minnesotan to be sort of humble and not braggy, and that was sort of one of the things that fascinated me about Mr. Mondale the most. He doesn’t brag … He’s just like a regular guy.

Q: Your previous documentaries aren’t related to politics. What was it like to plunge into the political world?

It’s funny, because I didn’t approach it any differently than I would approach any other film, which is that I’m absolutely fascinated with human nature and why people do what they do.

But he was absolutely the most difficult interview I’ve ever had, because he was so reluctant… He just didn’t want to do it. But what I found is that if I just hung around long enough, he would open up just a bit.

He was very guarded; he never liked being on camera. That was the challenge — he really didn’t need the publicity. He didn’t want to do it. Once I kept asking to do more, he kept asking why. It was a really hard process for me, and it took me about three years to make the movie.

Then I started getting his kids involved a little bit more, and I think that was a turning point for him. That it wasn’t just politics — that this was the story of a man.

Q: What did you learn about Mondale that others might not know or that didn’t make it into the film?

One of the things is that he’s actually very funny, and the public doesn’t know that about him. When the camera goes off, he has a great sense of humor … So that was interesting, because everybody thinks of him as such a serious guy.

I was surprised to find out how religious he actually is, and in this day and age, if you’re religious and you’re a politician, you talk about it because you want that constituency. But that’s just how he ran his life. He just always wanted to do the right thing.

Q: What feedback did you get from Mondale? And from viewers?

I’d love for you to ask him that, but let’s just put it this way: It made it all worth it. When you see a Norwegian guy with tears in his eyes, and a roomful of people giving him a standing ovation, it makes it all worth it. When people see this movie, I’m just amazed by how many people are crying at the end of the movie — because you just don’t see that.

Q: What are your next projects?

I’m actually working on two things — one of them is a TV series. It’s a pilot right now. The other thing I’m working on is in Minnesota. It’s about a commune that is based in Minnesota, in the city. They give up everything, which I find fascinating in today’s world … But it’s in the city, it’s a religious group, and the people kind of interact with the city all the time.

More information about “Fritz: The Walter Mondale Story” is available at Mondalefilm.org.

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