Eugene Jarecki Documentary REAGAN Premieres February 7 on HBO

     January 29, 2011

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I understand that Sundance is great for those who get to go, but in many ways it’s hell for those of stuck at home.  Our mass of Sundance coverage taunts, “Here are some awesome movies that you won’t get to see for 6-18 months, maybe never if distributors don’t know what to do with it.”  Well, HBO is helping us beat the system for one film: Eugene Jarecki’s Ronald Reagan documentary Reagan.

The network has announced Reagan will premiere at 9:00 ET/PT on February 7 (the day after the president’s 100th birthday), with several repeat airings in the weeks to follow.  I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile, and I’m glad we’ll get to see it sooner rather than later.  Hit the jump for the official announcements, which includes the repeat airdates and a lengthy synopsis.

EUGENE JARECKI’S REAGAN, DEBUTING FEB. 7 ON HBO, EXPLORES AN ICONIC AMERICAN PRESIDENT

A glamorous leading man with the common touch, a dedicated “Cold Warrior” who helped negotiate the most sweeping accords in history with the Soviet Union and a staunch proponent of smaller government, Ronald Reagan remains an enigma even to many of his closest advisors.

A fresh examination of the fascinating paradoxes surrounding the man, the myth and his legacy, Eugene Jarecki’s insightful documentary REAGAN follows the 40th president’s rise from small-town lifeguard to revered architect of the modern world.  This textured study investigates how Reagan’s homespun political vision fueled a seismic career, one whose reverberations still shape American life.  Following its Jan. 23 debut at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, REAGAN makes its HBO debut MONDAY, FEB. 7 (9:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), during the week of his 100th birthday.

Other HBO playdates:  Feb.  11 (7:30 a.m., 7:00 p.m.), 16 (2:30 p.m., midnight), 21 (12:30 p.m.), 24 (6:00 p.m.) and 26 (3:45 p.m.)

HBO2 playdates:  Feb. 9 (8:00 p.m., 4:05 a.m.) and 13 (5:00 p.m.)

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Balancing the conflicting versions presented by colleagues, historians, supporters and family, while combining archival footage, never-before-seen interviews and the words of Reagan himself, Jarecki assembles a rich portrait of a contradictory figure who spun his movie stardom into political gold and became the leader of the free world.

Tracing his subject from small-town boyhood to heady Hollywood days, Jarecki discovers a man whose offhand amiability masked a steely resolve.  When his acting career faltered after World War II, Reagan reinvented himself, first as president of the Screen Actors Guild, then as a pitchman for products ranging from cigarettes to laundry soap.  He eventually landed the role that would send him down another path, as official television and corporate spokesperson for General Electric.  Reagan’s travel on behalf of the company to small towns around the nation provided him with a unique political education as he gave speeches and mingled with GE’s workers.  The one-time FDR enthusiast and supporter of the New Deal gradually abandoned his liberal roots for more conservative pastures.

By the 1960s, his transformation was complete.  Standing beside archconservative Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee for president, Reagan became a charismatic voice for conservatism in America.  As the civil unrest of the era exploded nationwide, Reagan rode the white, working-class backlash all the way to Sacramento and two terms as governor of California.

Reagan’s willingness to allow the National Guard to confront demonstrating students with tear gas and attack dogs earned him a reputation as a tough traditionalist.  The support and admiration of the so-called “silent majority” buoyed his unsuccessful campaigns for the presidential nomination in 1968 and 1976, and in 1980, he topped the GOP field to run against and beat incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter.

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Once in office, Reagan proved more pragmatic than dogmatic.  After campaigning for lower taxes, his administration raised taxes in six of the eight years of his presidency.  Regardless, his charm and affability won the hearts of the American public, which overwhelmingly reelected him in 1984.

He denounced the U.S.S.R. as an “Evil Empire,” demanded that the Soviets “tear down the [Berlin] Wall” and authorized the ambitious Star Wars Initiative to keep America militarily dominant.  But at the same time, Reagan was engaged in negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev that resulted in a sweeping agreement to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

His administration was rocked by the Iran-Contra affair after it emerged that arms had been sold in exchange for hostages and then, against the will of Congress, the proceeds had funded Nicaraguan “freedom fighters.”  REAGAN takes an in-depth look at the scandal, which almost derailed his presidency, offering details on the president’s role and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger’s refusal to turn over cabinet meeting notes.

Jarecki also explores how Reagan’s personal beliefs aligned with his public policies and finds that this stalwart symbol of conservative family values was also quietly open-minded on social issues.

Since Reagan left office in 1989, his name has become a mantra for Republican politicians seeking credibility, symbolizing a return to traditional values and a strong stand in the culture wars against liberal “elites.”  But the truth, as Jarecki reveals, is far more complex.

Others featured in the documentary include former White House chief of staff James A. Baker; former White House senior advisor Pat Buchanan; former White House speechwriter Peter Robinson; Arthur Laffer, economist and architect of trickle-down economics; former CIA operative Frank Snepp; Ronald Reagan Legacy Project founder Grover Norquist; son Michael Reagan, who works to keep the legacy alive; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Frances Fitzgerald (“Way Out There in the Blue:  Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War”); official biographer Edmund Morris; Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, co-authors of two best-selling books about Reagan; author Will Bunch (“Tear Down This Myth”); author Lou Cannon (“Reagan”); author Thomas Frank (“What’s the Matter with Kansas?:  How Conservatives Won the Heart of America”) and journalist Dan Rather.

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