Today is the anniversary of Barack Obama’s election. To celebrate, many of the local campaign workers and supporters gathered at FitzGerald’s last night for a “watch party” of the documentary, By the People: The Election of Barack Obama. Oak Park resident Alicia Sams was happy to hear about the event, but sorry she couldn’t attend. She’ll be at a similar watch party in a Washington, D.C. bar with about 1,000 campaign staff and organizers who now work in D.C. Sams, 45, a longtime documentary filmmaker, co-directed the film with Amy Rice. We reached Sams in New York’s Central Park on Monday, where she was killing time waiting to make an appearance on the Charlie Rose Show.

Sams and Rice came up with the idea in 2005. Rice, a cinematographer, had seen Obama’s keynote speech at the Democratic Convention the year before and recognized the potential. They figured he’d be a senator for eight years then run for president, so they decided to get an early start.

“We didn’t expect it to happen this quickly,” she said.

Turns out they were in the right place at the right time. They had established a relationship with the Obama family, and that comfort level ultimately won out. His staff, including his top advisor David Axelrod, were a little leery about having a documentary ongoing during their run for the White House, “but we kept showing up. We wore Axelrod down.”

Maybe the Oak Park connection helped. Axelrod is a former village resident.

“He loves Oak Park,” Sams reports.

Rice covered the campaign plane while Sams focused on campaign headquarters. Being a two-woman operation helped with access because they were less obtrusive. Because Rice was already a cinematographer, Sams taught herself how to do the sound.

“My learning curve was steeper,” she admits.

Obama, she said, was remarkably consistent throughout. “He was always the same guy,” Sams recalls. “He never treated us differently. Sometimes as a filmmaker, you want to see some range, but he was definitely ‘no drama.’ He’s very comfortable in his own skin.”

What most people don’t know about him, she said, is how witty and funny he is. She thinks that comes across in their film.

The film mostly affirmed her belief in democracy because of how many people got involved, especially young people. The disillusioning part is how much money is required to run any campaign.

“It’s such an industry,” she says.

She hopes the film “kicks up enthusiasm for being involved. We need to stay involved.” She’s happy with the finished product because it tells the story of a truly historic campaign “from the inside out.”

For more on the film, check the Web site,

“It was very exciting,” she says about the whole experience. “We felt lucky.”

-Ken Trainor

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