WASHINGTON - A new documentary on the late Sen. Paul Wellstone offers this surprising fact about the proud Minnesotan: he didn't want to move to Minnesota.
After Carleton College offered the 25-year-old Wellstone a teaching job, the North Carolina resident was trying to find reasons not to accept, recalls friend Jim Stimson.
"He didn't want to live in Minnesota," says a laughing Stimson, after hesitating about whether to offer this information for public consumption.
But in the documentary, "Wellstone!," the future Democratic senator is shown throwing himself into Minnesota full-bore, from organizing on behalf of farmers and workers, to his 12 years in the United States Senate.
The 88-minute documentary will premiere Oct. 14 at the Heights Theater in Minneapolis as part of the Central Standard Film Festival. It was originally to be called "Carry it Forward," put producers decided to change the name to avoid confusion with the movie "Pay it Forward."
The film was produced by Hard Working Pictures, a St. Paul, Minn., production company at a cost of around $350,000. It covers the lives of Wellstone and his wife Sheila from the time they met in high school.
The Wellstones and their daughter, Marcia Wellstone Markuson, were killed, along with five others, in a plane crash just days before the 2002 Senate election. Wellstone's replacement on the ballot, former Vice President Walter Mondale, lost the Senate race to Republican Norm Coleman.
One theme is the Wellstones' ability to connect with regular people despite reaching the pinnacle of political power.
"They were just such ordinary people that they were like your best friend," says Jayne Marsnick, a supporter from the Iron Range.
"He'd be walking down the hallway and cross the hallway and come to you and shake your hand and talk to you," says an unnamed Capitol Hill maintenance worker. Adds another: "A lot of senators don't say nothing to you."
There is also footage of Sheila Wellstone's work on behalf of domestic abuse victims, including a "Silent Witness" exhibit she put together at the Capitol.
Paul Wellstone is portrayed as a serious, high-minded champion of progressive causes, but not without a sense of humor. In a serious tone, he tells a small group of elderly women that he will not accept any money from tobacco companies.
"On the other hand, they never have offered any," he says, laughing heartily. "That's not a big sacrifice for me ..."
Stimson says that Wellstone's political consciousness was raised as a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, after spending time with poor people living in Durham.
Wellstone "reached into their lives and empathized with the way they lived," says Stimson, recalling how Wellstone organized for poor university cafeteria workers.
Jeff Blodgett, who went on to become Wellstone's campaign manager, described Wellstone as a "pretty easy grader" at Carleton, and one who some suspected graded on ideology. Another student-turned-staffer, Kari Moe, described how students rallied to save Wellstone's job after the administration tired of his political activism.
The film is unabashedly pro-Wellstone, but it doesn't gloss over his missteps. It notes, for example, how he offended veterans by staging an anti-war news conference in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial soon after arriving in Washington.
"Paul was brash when he got here," says Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of Wellstone's closest friends in the Senate.
A major focus of "Wellstone!" is his willingness to take unpopular positions. In 1996, for example, Wellstone was the only senator up for re-election to vote against an overhaul of the nation's welfare system. In a Senate speech, he predicts children will be hurt by the law.
"They don't have the lobbyists, they don't have the PACs," Wellstone says.
Six years later, Wellstone faced another tough election-year challenge, voting down a resolution authorizing war with Iraq, which Coleman used against him in the campaign.
"He thought the vote on Iraq could cost him the election," recalls Colin McGinnis, Wellstone's chief of staff at the time.
© 2004 Knight Ridder