Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election, but he ruled the Sundance Film Festival tonight. In a scene you wouldn’t expect to see at the Robert Redford-founded fest, the Republican and head of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games Organizing Committee showed up unannounced at the premiere screening of Mitt in the Utah capital. The lobby of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Centre filled with cheers and applause as the former Massachusetts governor, his wife Ann and several of their children arrived. “I invited him, but I didn’t know if he was going to come,” director Greg Whiteley told me this evening. He added that Romney had not yet seen the film, so the helmer doesn’t know if he’ll like it. (UPDATE: Just before the screening began, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert praised Sundance and Redford for their contributions to the state and then introduced Romney in the audience, saying, “We all wished the election had ended differently.” The room of 250-plus attendees rose in a standing ovation while the Romneys waived from their seats.)
Related: Hot Trailer: Netflix Docu ‘Mitt’
In stark contrast to the often-stiff Romney on the campaign trail in 2008 and 2012, the compellingly up-close and intimate documentary chronicles the much more live-wire and warmer man during his two runs for the White House. The film plays the festival in both Salt Lake and Park City before debuting on Netflix on January 24. The streaming service acquired theatrical and TV rights to the 92-minute pic by director and Sundance vet Whiteley on December 9, the same day Mitt was announced as a Documentary Premiere at this year’s festival. Able to get access after approaching the Romney family directly, Whiteley — who previously helmed New York Doll and Resolved — followed the candidate and those close to him from Christmas Eve 2006 in Park City to Election Night 2012.
Mitt is the second major politically themed docu Netflix has picked up recently. In November, Netflix acquired The Square. The film, which launched at Sundance in 2013, focused on the uprising and unrest in Egypt in 2011 and received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary yesterday.