On Oct. 27, 1993, a 32-year-old Chicago lawyer, Barack Obama, was interviewed by an aspiring filmmaker who wanted to make a documentary about African-American role models. That movie never got made, but the 12-minute interview is just now surfacing in a video, "Becoming Barack: Evolution of a Leader."
Video of Obama before his Illinois State Senate days is rare, but those dozen minutes weren't enough to carry a stand-alone film. Los Angeles-based executive producer Stuart A. Goldman added newly shot interviews with people from Obama's days in Chicago as a community organizer and lawyer, an interview with his half sister shot during Obama's 2006 visit to Kenya and other material to create the DVD. It will be released on Aug. 11.
The film is focused on Obama's time working for a church-based community organization on Chicago's South Side and his return to the city after graduating Harvard Law School in 1991. Once back in Chicago, the new attorney ran Project Vote, went on to work at a law firm, write his memoir and teach at the University of Chicago Law School.
Obama talks in the 1993 clip about how he at first rejected the Project Vote job offer because he was busy writing what would become "Dreams of My Father." He reconsidered leading a voter registration drive a few weeks later after Carol Moseley Braun won the Democratic Illinois Senate primary, setting the stage for her to become the first female and African-American senator from Illinois.
Obama discusses the possibilities and problems confronting Chicago's black community.
"The burden is on all the political leadership in the black community to operate with clarity and integrity," Obama said.
"It isn't as if Obama transformed the South Side of Chicago," Goldman told me. "The story is how the South Side transformed Obama."
The 1993 video was shot by Zeke Gonzalez, who was then 21. According to Goldman, Gonzalez -- who Goldman said did not want to be interviewed -- put the tape in a vault until Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. Gonzalez tried and failed to raise money for his African-American role-model movie. After Obama was sworn in last January, Gonzalez tried again, meeting Goldman at a film market in Los Angeles, where the two struck a deal. Goldman took the project to Little Dizzy Home Video.
Other rarely seen video on this DVD is a 1990 clip of Obama at a Harvard Law School rally on diversity, and a 1986 story about Obama broadcast on Chicago television station WMAQ. (I wrote earlier this week
about the new HBO documentary "By the People: The Election of Barack Obama")
The most telling clip is Obama talking in 1993 about his political future.
"My general view about politics and running for office is that if you end up being fortunate enough to have the opportunity to serve, it is because you got a track record of service in the community and I think right now, I am still building up that track record and if it, a point comes where I think that I might do more good in a political office" than somewhere else, "I might think about it, but that time is certainly in the future."
Less than two years later, Obama would launch his political career with successful bids for the Illinois State Senate, the U.S. Senate, and the White House.