Filmmaker waited 18 years to release documentary about Gatewood Galbraith

rcopley@herald-leader.comJune 13, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    'Gatewood'

    What: Screening of a short documentary about the 1995 gubernatorial campaign of Gatewood Galbraith by filmmaker Chris Iovenko. There will be a Q&A with the filmmaker after the screening.

    When: 9 p.m. June 14

    Where: Natasha's Bistro & Bar, 112 Esplanade

    Admission: Free

    Learn more: (859) 259-2754, Beetnik.com

Growing up in Louisville's Bingham family, Chris Iovenko was always interested in politics and was plugged in to the Kentucky Democratic Party.

But he graduated from Vassar College in the early 1990s a bit disillusioned, the malaise of the era taking hold. Then he found someone to believe in: Gatewood Galbraith.

"I was enchanted by him," said Iovenko, the son of Sallie Bingham and Michael Iovenko. "The power of his personality was overwhelming."

About that time, Galbraith was getting ready to make the second of his four runs for Kentucky governor. Iovenko thought, based on his own impressions, that Galbraith might have a shot at winning. So as an aspiring filmmaker who had helped produce several films for Kentucky Educational Television, Iovenko trained his camera on Galbraith's campaign.

It wasn't until Galbraith's death last year at age 64 that Iovenko decided it was time to release the film, which he is screening in Kentucky, including a showing Friday at Natasha's Bistro & Bar. Iovenko, who is now based in Los Angeles and says he is working on feature film projects, will be at the screening and will participate in a question-and-answer session after the 30-minute film.

One easy question for him: Why didn't the film come out until now?

"Spoiler: He didn't win the election," Iovenko says. "He got crushed by the better funded, conventional candidates.

"It was a conundrum because I believed in him, and I didn't want to make a documentary about him getting crushed by more conventional candidates. I decided to put it on the shelf, thinking I would return to it when Gatewood had better luck in his political career."

He never did.

In Galbraith's last campaign, in 2011, he got 9 percent of the vote against Democratic incumbent Steve Beshear and Republican David Williams. Galbraith beat Williams in numerous Fayette County precincts, but he never got close to winning.

So the film is more of a time capsule of Galbraith early in his political life. It includes footage of numerous figures a couple of decades younger, including former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler and Lexington TV personalities.

"He would go anywhere and talk to anyone," Iovenko says of Galbraith.

That point is quickly made in the film as Galbraith enters a Louisville bingo hall to talk to the players. At first, there seems to be mild annoyance at this politician yammering on. But then some players start to nod their heads at his populist message, including, "You shouldn't have to pee in a cup to get a job."

Many, like Iovenko, were won over by many of Galbraith's ideas, but while filming, he says, he could see why Galbraith failed to win over majorities.

Galbraith operated mostly outside the political party system. In 1995, he ran in the Democratic primary and then became a write-in candidate after losing to eventual winner Paul Patton. He was never as well funded or otherwise supported as his opponents.

And then there was his signature issue: the legalization of hemp and marijuana.

"That stopped a lot of people from even beginning to take him seriously," Iovenko says.

At several points during the film, Galbraith complains to the camera that people view him as a one-issue candidate, although he expresses views on a broad spectrum of concerns. He also lights up joints several times during the film, including while wearing an Abraham Lincoln costume at a Halloween party.

"He was a provocateur," Iovenko says. "He set himself up for that because he liked controversy. But it undermined him."

Now that the film is complete, Iovenko says he aims to get it shown around Kentucky and take it to film festivals.


IF YOU GO

'Gatewood'

What: Screening of a short documentary about the 1995 gubernatorial campaign of Gatewood Galbraith by filmmaker Chris Iovenko. There will be a Q&A with the filmmaker after the screening.

When: 9 p.m. June 14

Where: Natasha's Bistro & Bar, 112 Esplanade

Admission: Free

Learn more: (859) 259-2754, Beetnik.com

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: Copiousnotes.bloginky.com.

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