Beto O'Rourke's indecision surrounding a 2020 presidential run has been the subject of mass scrutiny since his ascent to political stardom last November. The former U.S. representative garnered substantial political capital when he almost defeated Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterms and a fan base that transcended the borders of his home state of Texas. Although O'Rourke has yet to formally announce his bid, the red-state liberal has maintained his political relevance, which will undoubtedly surge following the release of the HBO documentary Running with Beto.
The film captures the setbacks and the triumphs O'Rourke faced during his Senate campaign, and, whether strategic or not, projects a personal narrative ahead of a potential presidential run. At the SXSW premiere of the documentary in Austin, TX, the former representative received a standing ovation from the audience, and successfully averted any 2020-related inquiries.
Director David Modigliani spent nearly two years on the road with Beto, and ultimately collected over 700 hours worth of footage as the then-Senate hopeful visited every one of the state's 254 counties. Modigliani began compiling material for the film long before O'Rourke's campaign was considered promising, which was surprising even for Beto. "I was like, ‘What the fuck?'" O’Rourke remembered thinking after Modigliani initially asked him about making the film. "We’re running for Senate. If you want to bring a camera along sometimes. I didn’t think it would be this. I didn’t realize how involved they will be."
In retrospect, the documentary does tell an age-old tale: a charismatic El-Paso Democrat inspires the underdogs as he faces off against an unlikable, villainous opponent in a state where the odds are against him. Although he failed to unseat Cruz, O'Rourke's candidacy did inject a sense of hope into Texas Democrats that hasn't been felt since Ann Richards briefly governed the state in the early '90s.
In addition to capturing what it was like on the campaign trail, Running With Beto also details aspects of O'Rourke's personal life, from the hardship that distance caused his wife Amy Hoover Sanders and their children, to how he coped with his loss, per Variety. On the night that his unsuccessful campaign came to an end, the film crew recorded footage of Beto in his kitchen arguing with his road manager Cynthia Cano. Although some may view the proximity to be invasive, Beto explains that watching the film was an emotional, yet positive experience for him.
“It was incredibly emotional to watch,” O’Rourke said during the Q&A. "David asked us what we thought. We said, 'It’s amazing. We’re maybe too close to it to understand it and have a perspective on it, but it’s very powerful.' I said, 'Can you just show a scene where Cynthia and I are not fighting?'" O’Rourke said jokingly.
The release of Running With Beto on HBO is slated for May 28, 2018.