CRAWFORD, Texas – Instead of limousines and a red carpet, there were pickup trucks and a grassy football field for the local premiere of a documentary film about a tiny farming town that suddenly became the Western White House.
About 300 people turned out Sunday night for "Crawford," which started playing at dusk on a 50-foot-tall inflatable outdoor screen at the football field; the town has no movie theater. Folks sat on blankets and lawn chairs on the warm, windy night and munched on $2 bags of popcorn.
David Modigliani's documentary tells how small-town life changed for many of the 700 residents after George W. Bush, while governor, bought a 1,600-acre ranch here in 1999 in the early days of his presidential campaign.
The movie shows residents' varied reactions to the influx of tourists, the media and war protesters as the town's economy initially boomed with new souvenir shops and other businesses.
"All those people in the movie are my friends, and it was neat to see them up there on the screen," Cindy Damon said after the film. She said she's lived in Crawford for 53 of her 54 years.
The crowd laughed Sunday night during a scene showing several elderly men playing dominoes and playfully bickering over their views on Bush.
Some laughed when resident Ricky Smith bragged about — and the footage showed — riding through town with his friend on horses emblazoned with "Cindy go home" and other messages during Cindy Sheehan's war protest during the summer of 2005. The California mother's four-week protest during Bush's vacation drew more than 10,000 people and sparked counter protests.
Not everyone in the crowd was from Crawford. Robin Pfeiffenberger of Dallas, who had never been to Crawford, said she went to see the film Sunday because she was intrigued by what she heard about it.
"It showed the various points of view of the town," she said. "I can certainly see how it's been turned upside down and back again. And I think it has some very colorful characters."
Modigliani, who moved to Austin several years ago, said he made the film after feeling "betrayed" when he learned that Bush was not from Crawford. The documentary has been shown at several festivals.
The film spans about eight years, although Modigliani filmed in Crawford from 2004 through last fall. He also used news footage and residents' home videos — such as when Bush spoke at the school's high school graduation in 2000 and when the band played at his first inauguration.
Among those featured in the film are a college administrator, Baptist minister and souvenir store owner who support Bush, and a teacher and student whose dislike of the president increasingly make them feel like outsiders.
"Before he came here this was an overwhelmingly Republican community — or else he wouldn't have bought a ranch here — but it wasn't an `it's us or them' mentality," Misti Turbeville, a history and debate teacher, said Sunday. "Suddenly it brought to the surface these tensions, and it made politics feel like more of a divisive issue than a difference of opinion."
Turbeville said she believes the ranch purchase was a public relations ploy to help get Bush elected. But she said the town has benefited in some ways, such as when students were able to see Bush, some of his Cabinet members and even world leaders in town during ranch visits.
In 2001 after their summit at the ranch, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bush spoke to the school's sixth- through 12th-graders. The leaders even answered students' questions.
"That still gives me chills," Turbeville said. "I wish every teacher in America could have that opportunity. It was really exciting to bring those discussions about politics into the classroom, but you have to be careful because a lot of teenagers and parents don't want to have their thoughts challenged."
Warren Johnson, a McLennan Community College administrator in nearby Waco, said the positives of having Bush as a sometime-neighbor have outweighed the negatives. In addition to expanding children's awareness of the world, property values in town increased, he said.
Johnson said he is pleased with the film and said it may surprise people who think that all residents unilaterally support Bush.
"Crawford is not lockstep pro-George Bush," Johnson said. "We're probably a cross-section of mid-America. It's probably the same as a million other little communities."