After a Chance Meeting, David Modigliani Documented Beto O’Rourke’s Senate Run

Running With Beto comes to HBO on May 28.
Running With Beto comes to HBO on May 28. courtesy PMK•BNC

In Running With Beto, a documentary directed by David Modigliani, the director captures Beto O’Rourke’s run for Senate in the 2018 midterm election, showcasing a more human side of a politician with a large platform and a big following. Although O’Rourke didn’t win, Modigliani believed his story would be an important one to tell, regardless of the outcome.

“I first met Beto during a sandlot baseball game,” recalls Modigliani. “I’m a co-founder of an independent sandlot baseball team in Austin called the Texas Playboys baseball club, named after Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and we have friends who form teams to come play us. We had some friends from El Paso who formed a team called Los Diablitos from El Paso. They had a lanky center fielder with a name I had never heard before, who happened to be a U.S. congressman, and he had announced about six weeks before that he was running for U.S. Senate.”

Modigliani later chatted with O’Rourke, and O’Rourke discussed key points of his upcoming campaign.

“Following the 2016 election, I had been feeling very acutely about how we dehumanize each other through politics,” Modigliani says. “As a filmmaker and a storyteller, I wanted to re-humanize politics and draw people back into the process.”

During the seventh-inning stretch, O’Rourke spoke to both teams and divulged ideas and details of his campaign for U.S. senator.

“He brushed his sweaty locks aside and his dirty uniform, and as soon as he started talking, it was clear he was an incredibly compelling person.” – David Modigliani

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“He brushed his sweaty locks aside and his dirty uniform, and as soon as he started talking, it was clear he was an incredibly compelling person,” Modigliani says. “But from a storytelling standpoint, the type of campaign he was going to run was what really drew me in. The fact that he was going to visit every county in Texas, that he was not going to take any PAC money, that he was not going to hire any consultants or pollsters, that he was really going to test the theory of the case, just human to human.”

Modigliani caught up with O’Rourke a few months later over breakfast. He pitched his film idea to O’Rourke and later began production on the documentary in November 2017. Throughout the 12-month production process, Modigliani came to know O’Rourke's team well. He praised their strategy, as well as O’Rourke's willingness to be open and candid.

“It was an incredible experience to witness people who were allowing themselves to be vulnerable,” Modigliani says, “and to try new things to get involved in politics new ways. That goes from Beto, who was taking some new approaches, to his 25-year-old communications director, his campaign manager who had been with GE for 18 years and had never been part of a political campaign.”

Although O’Rourke ultimately lost the election to incumbent Ted Cruz, Modigliani believes the entire campaign and journey were a life-changing experience for himself and for everyone involved.

“A lot of these people went from a place of feeling hopeless, helpless and disconnected to finding a sense of purpose and community through their activism,” Modigliani says. “I felt that there would be a powerful story to tell, whether we were to win or lose.”

Modigliani will make an appearance at the Dallas International Film Festival for Running With Beto’s Dallas premiere on Sunday, April 14, at 3:30 p.m. at Landmark Magnolia. Following the screening, he and a staff member of O’Rourke's campaign will have a Q&A session with the audience.

Running With Beto is set to officially premiere on HBO on May 28.
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Alex Gonzalez has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2018. He is a Dallas native whose work has appeared in Local Profile, MTV News and the Austin American-Statesman. He has eclectic taste in music and enjoys writing about art, food and culture.
Contact: Alex Gonzalez