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Heard on the Hill: Lights, Camera, Activists

Haven’t had enough of the political conventions? They’ll be coming someday to a theater near you. Actors attending the conventions gave HOH an update on the filming of the new documentary by Barry Levinson called “PoliWood,” which examines the nexus between Hollywood celebrities and politics. Levinson began rolling his cameras during the Democratic convention in Denver and continued in the Twin Cities.

[IMGCAP(1)]And although Levinson is, in Hollywood parlance, “kind of a big deal,” it was actor Tim Daly who started the project — at least according to Daly. The actor and co-president of the Creative Coalition tells HOH that during a cross-country road trip with his 18-year-old daughter last summer, the father-daughter team started shooting footage in which they

asked “regular folks” what they would say if they could speak to the president and interviewed them about the Constitution and important policy issues.

Daly said once Academy Award-winning director Levinson, whose credits include “Rain Man” and “Good Morning, Vietnam,” signed on to direct the project, it moved the documentary into a “different echelon.” And Daly said the director collected plenty of interesting footage from both conventions, particularly during the Democratic gathering, where he caught celebrities interacting with both regular folks and high-powered politicians. “People seemed so full of … well, I don’t want to sound gooey about it, but full of love,” he said of the convention in Denver.

Actor Tony Goldwyn, who is co-president of the Creative Coalition along with Daly, told HOH that Levinson filmed focus groups in each city to determine how regular people perceive activist celebrities. He was surprised to hear that most people’s initial reaction to celebrities’ activism was negative. “There was this sense that ‘you’re not me,’” Goldwyn said. “But as soon as you start to deal with people as people, they realize that you care, too.”

Start popping the popcorn.

Minne-Bye-Bye. Goodbye, goodbye. That’s one farewell for each of the Twin Cities. As HOH and plenty of other convention-goers head back to Washington — for many of us, following a two-week convention whirlwind — we thought it was only fitting to take a look back at the week’s highlights.

• Star of the Convention: Conventional (sorry) wisdom would give this one to vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, but we’re giving it to little Piper Palin, the 7-year-old daughter of the Alaska governor who, for our money, stole the show during her mother’s Wednesday night speech. Waving to the crowds, smoothing baby brother Trig’s hair and grinning, Piper also stole a few hearts in the crowd.

• Elephant in the Room: Hurricane Gustav. Though the convention itself was hundreds of miles from the Gulf Coast, where last week residents were bracing for a big hit, Gustav felt like a ghost haunting the convention activities. Parties were canceled and turned into relief fundraisers, and the official business was curtailed. The storm didn’t do as much damage as feared, but it sure gave purpose to the partying here.

• What We’ll Miss About the Twin Cities: the Mall of America. Heart-racing roller coasters, scary sharks and two Victoria’s Secret locations? We’re sold. The largest mall in the United States brought us joy from the moment we entered its neon-sign-filled interior. MOA might not have been the most prestigious place in the Twin Cities, but it brought new additions to plenty of convention-goers’ wardrobes — and that’s something they’ll keep long after all that confetti has been swept up.

• What We Won’t: The nice people. HOH waxed enthusiastic about the friendly reception from the locals in Denver last week, but after two straight weeks of cordial folks wishing us a nice day, we’re ready to head back to good old Washington, D.C., where the city’s humidity is exceeded only by the surliness of its residents.

Place Your Bets. It’s no bluff that pollsters will spend the upcoming weeks trying to decipher whether Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin raised the stakes for Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s campaign. But the high rollers already have called it — and Sen. Barack Obama remains the 2-to-1 odds-on favorite in the presidential election.

Web site polled 1,639 poker players online Sept. 2-4, and found that 1,043 gamblers intend to vote for the Illinois Democrat for president, compared with 596 for the Arizona Republican. Apparently, players believe Obama’s ticket is stronger as well — 1,167 felt that he has the best team, compared with 499 for McCain.

The poll isn’t just for folly, according to DuplicatePoker’s Daniel Flamberg. Poker players are “astute observers who take calculated risks under time pressure,” he said.

“The best poker players size up their opponents quickly and calculate the best way to press their advantage,” Flamberg said. “These results are a good indicator of how Americans are processing and reacting to two weeks of orchestrated political theater.”

Sundancing in D.C.? The Impact Film Festival, which brought 14 movies touching on various political issues to both the Democratic and Republican conventions, was apparently such a success that the nation’s capital could soon get its own version.

Festival organizer Jody Arlington told HOH that she and her fellow movie buffs are planning to host a similar event in D.C. sometime in the spring. The idea is to use feature films and documentaries to highlight important political issues, since film has the ability to reach people in a way that other media cannot.

The film and political communities “want to be involved together,” said Jamie Shor, the festival’s co-founder. “Film really does give a great lesson on these issues.”

The two-week festival brought out an array of A-listers for screening and discussions, from Members of Congress to actress Charlize Theron and her director beau Stuart Townsend to the regular folk depicted in various documentaries.

Many of the films screened were biographical, such as “Boogeyman,” which profiled the late political consultant Lee Atwater. Others focused on specific issues or events, such as “Trouble the Water,” which used firsthand video footage to follow a New Orleans couple as they braved Hurricane Katrina, both during the storm and its aftermath.

“Excitement around the … films has really inspired us to go back to our home and do this,” Shor said.

Thompson in a Top Hat, No Tails. Many travelers from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., will sport evidence of their stay in the form of deep undereye circles and haggard looks. Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), too, bore traces of his convention stay. An HOH tipster spotted the featured convention speaker at the airport waiting for a flight back to Washington wearing a red, white and blue top hat. And though he sported a top hat, Thompson wasn’t as gentlemanly as his outfit: Our tipster says he flew first class, while his wife took a seat in coach.

Guess that makes for another difference between the squeaky-clean Twin Cities and Sin City: What happens in Minnesota clearly doesn’t stay in Minnesota.

Seating Arrangements. The scramble for flights out of Minneapolis made the lines to get on planes the best places to check out bold-facers. Seen boarding the same Washington-bound flight: former White House adviser Karl Rove and journalist Matthew Cooper. The two men were embroiled in a 2005 case involving Rove’s leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson to reporters. Surely the two aren’t on the friendliest terms, which could make for some awkward in-flight conversation.

Hope they brought some reading material.

Nathan L. Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report contributed to this report.

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