Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Ellen Gray | Docu maker captures evangelicals with a Haggard look

FRIENDS OF GOD: A ROAD TRIP WITH ALEXANDRA PELOSI. 9 tonight, HBO.

ALEXANDRA PELOSI didn't set out to make a documentary on evangelical Christians with a "gotcha!" moment featuring disgraced minister Ted Haggard.

It just worked out that way.

Sure, there's an unforgettable scene in HBO's "Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi," in which Haggard and two of his followers talk about what great sex lives evangelical Christians have - some might even regard their revelations as Too Much Information - but when the Emmy-winning filmmaker ("Journeys with George") first met Haggard, she couldn't have known that he'd be caught up in a scandal involving drugs and a male prostitute shortly after the movie wrapped.

Could she?

"I started filming in June of 2005, and one of the first people I met was Pastor Ted," Pelosi said earlier this month when I asked her about the timing during an HBO press conference in Pasadena, Calif.

Haggard, then head of the National Association of Evangelicals, "was my tour guide . . . the one that welcomed me in" to the world of evangelical Christianity, she said, acknowledging that "it may hurt, the fact that he was the one I chose . . . as the leading man."

Pelosi said she spent a year and a half "on and off" with Haggard, "and then I got pregnant [she and husband Michael Vos, a Dutch journalist, have a son]. And my boss said to me, 'You'd better deliver the movie before you deliver the baby.' And so my baby was due the first week of November, and . . . the movie was handed in to HBO by the end of October.

"The Ted Haggard sex scandal came out in the first week of November. So I was two weeks past due, and we had to make this executive decision of how we should - what we were going to do about the movie that I had made. And all we did was put up a slate saying, 'In the interest of full disclosure, this is what happened.'

"But we didn't change the movie based on the current events. It was just a complete coincidence that he liked to talk about sex with his congregation," she said.

It may or may not be a coincidence that Pelosi's mother, Nancy, was elected speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives just weeks before her daughter's latest politically charged documentary was to debut on HBO, but when I suggested that the timing might have been less than perfect for the Democratic leader, the younger Pelosi insisted her mother "has a complete separation of church and state."

"She leaves my work alone," she said. "Believe it or not, we don't even talk about politics in our family. People are always surprised when they come to eat dinner at my house because they are always expecting to have these heated discussions about politics. But, when we get home, everybody is trying to unplug. So, since I just had a baby, we really talk about baby feedings and diapers and stuff."

As anyone knows who saw "Journeys with George," Pelosi's documentary about her experiences as part of the media pack that followed George W. Bush during the 2000 election campaign, or the 2004 campaign's "Diary of a Political Tourist," Pelosi tends not to separate herself from her subjects as much as most journalists try to.

Her red-state tour may be a bit less Alex-centric than previous road trips, but it retains enough of the wide-eyed wonder of those earlier journeys to suggest that she - still - needs to get out more.

Diane Sawyer in Camden

ABC's "20/20" (10 p.m., Channel 6) goes to Camden tomorrow night for a Diane Sawyer special, "Waiting on the World to Change," that looks at poverty through the eyes of three children in one of the poorest cities in America.

It's a city, of course, located not only in Philadelphia's back yard but in New Jersey, the state with the highest household income in the country, and not far from Moorestown, the town Money magazine in 2005 named the best place to live in the United States, an irony Sawyer and her crew play with a bit without going very deep.

Instead, they've focused on a year in the lives of three irresistible subjects: a homeless 4-year-old named Ivan, who can't wait to start kindergarten; Billy Joe, a high school senior struggling to balance academics and an after-school job he needs to help his single father raise a large family; and 6-year-old Moochie, whose dreams of being a judge collide daily with her father's alcoholism.

Depressing stuff for sure, but the kids really are irresistible, and an hour turns out to be not nearly enough time to do them, or their stories, justice - which may be why the discussion will continue on tomorrow's "Nightline" (11:35 p.m., Channel 6). *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

Daily News Staff
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