‘Run’ Takes a Walk in Granny D’s Shoes

Posted October 15, 2007 at 4:22pm

After waking up at the crack of dawn, taking a series of medications for breathing, walking two miles, having a bowl of cereal and checking her e-mail and news of the day, 97-year-old Doris Haddock really gets started by devoting the rest of her time to state and national issues that must be dealt with.

The remarkable story of Haddock, better known as Granny D, will be told in a new documentary, “Run Granny Run,” premiering Thursday on HBO.

Directed and produced by Marlo Poras, “Run Granny Run” delivers an intimate and infectious portrait of “America’s oldest political newcomer,” a political activist turned candidate in New Hampshire who most recently challenged Sen. Judd Gregg (R) in 2004.

When Poras first began filming Haddock in the spring of 2004, she planned on following her on the voter registration drive through the election. She thought she’d “make a road trip movie with an unlikely heroine, and we’d get a view of America in a pivotal election year through her eyes.”

“Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think this [journey] would turn into a campaign film. But when Doris unexpectedly jumped into the electoral ring, I knew I was on the right path,” Poras said. “Being open to the unexpected and balancing my own vision as a director against the reality of lived life is one of my favorite aspects of documentary filmmaking.”

The film illustrates how Granny D chose to spend her twilight years quite differently from others. Haddock definitely believed age was nothing but a number when, at age 90, she famously walked 3,200 miles across the continental United States from California to New Hampshire, ending in Washington, D.C., to advocate awareness about the implications of special interest groups and corporations contributing to political campaigns, all while refusing to let arthritis and emphysema get in her way.

The liberal crusader was willing to go to such lengths to stand up to what she saw as corruption and an unfair advantage gained by politicians who are willing to take massive sums of money from corporations and other special interest groups.

“I was able to create an interest in campaign finance reform that the power of one is a very important power,” Haddock said. “You have it, you don’t know that you have it, people don’t realize that they want to do something that’s bigger than themselves and thus it becomes a very exciting, interesting life.”

The documentary also follows Haddock at 94 in her unexpected decision to run against incumbent Gregg, becoming the Democratic Senate nominee in her native New Hampshire. She entered just four months before Election Day because the previous Democratic candidate unexpectedly dropped out of the race.

The highlight of “Run Granny Run” is the dramatic lead-up to Haddock’s official debate with Gregg, where the two go head-to-head live on television. The night before, a frail Haddock prays, bent over her bed, saying “Dear God, please don’t let me make a fool of myself tomorrow.” The documentary shows a clearly nervous Haddock expressing her anxiety about never before having debated.

Though Gregg ultimately won the contest with 66 percent of the vote, Haddock expresses satisfaction with the race.

“There are many people who are doubtful that a 94-year-old woman can get from here to the United States Senate,” Haddock said. “Though I lost, I helped turn New Hampshire from a red state to a blue one!”

Haddock’s personal trials and tribulations emerge throughout the documentary. Her daughter, Betty, suffers from Alzheimer’s — the same disease that afflicted Haddock’s late husband, and Haddock’s motherly instinct and role is prominent when she is shown feeling guilty after leaving several visits with her daughter. She continues to remain strong throughout the documentary, believing she should use the precious time she has left to inspire change for future generations.

Through Haddock’s long, arduous walking exploits, heartbreaking tribulations such as battling the inherent limitations of old age, and her challenge of running a campaign that personifies her democratic ideals of a government of, by and for the people, “Run Granny Run” is inspirational.

“There’s so much cynicism and frustration about what seems to be an intractable political system, and I think that Doris offers a striking, refreshing example of civic engagement,” Poras said. “With her seemingly quixotic commitment to breathe life into her ideas, Doris has proven time and again that authentic politics is the art of the impossible — that when you don’t pay heed to what’s impossible, you act as if everything is possible, which is a vital step on the path toward extraordinary change.”

“Run Granny Run” made its world premiere in 2007 at the South by Southwest Film Festival, where Poras took home the Audience Award for Feature Documentary. The documentary will debut at 9 p.m. Thursday on HBO and will be released on DVD on Nov. 6, Election Day.