Love him. Hate him.
There has to be some kind of explanation behind the madness of America’s Toughest Sheriff.
Director Randy Murray took eight years to compose an entertainment documentary on America’s most controversial sheriff, Joe Arpaio. The film looks into his popularity, media manipulation, fear-mongering, racism, illegal immigration, free speech and the politics.
Latino-Review had an exclusive phone interview with Murray about his documentary on the controversial political figure. We discussed Joe Arpaio himself, the spin machine, racism and trying to keep a balanced perspective on a documentary without major personal politics.
“The Joe Show” is currently available on VOD.
Read the interview below.
Latino-Review: How did you come up with the original idea on doing a documentary on Sheriff Joe Arpaio?
Randy Murray: Ten years ago we’ve decided that we needed to do something for a release nationally to show off our art. We looked around and picked on what we thought to be an entertaining character. It was going to be a profile of him. We thought it would be a six month project and within a year that we would have it out. And that’s not how it worked out.
Latino-Review: Being a six month project, when did you exactly started?
Randy Murray: Well ten years ago, Joe wasn’t as controversial as he was today. We got in and did a few interviews. Immediately, I realized that this train was on a collision course and something was going to happen here. He was becoming more powerful, so we started to dig and find evidence of really horrible things. That’s when we decided to wait until we had an ending to the film.
Latino-Review: How did you managed to convince him to go along with this documentary? Especially since there are some good things and some bad things about him.
Randy Murray: We were very honest about it. When I first met the sheriff on the first day of filming, we were standing by my car and he noticed the John Kerry bumper sticker. I confess in my personal life that I am a liberal. He was like, “I’m okay with.” I told him that, “I’m a journalist first. I’m going to be fair with you. I’m going to tell a balanced story. I’m going to tell the full story, because that’s what we do.” Now I did also tell him that I’m not going to pull any punches.
At one point, he got wind of the more difficult points of the film. He came back and asked, “Are you doing a hit piece on me?” I said, “No, I’m not. But, I think you are.” That’s really the case. The truth is not really friendly to his spin or politics.
Latino-Review: Yeah, I was going to say he appears to hate journalists.
Randy Murray: [Laughter] No, he doesn’t. He does appear that way, but he doesn’t. It’s very strange with the relationship he has with journalists. And myself included. I find that I liked the man and he’s a very friendly guy. This is with many journalists. It’s a very unusual conflict internally when you go, “Oh, my God! I think I uncovered the source of the greatest evil done in our country since the 1960s. And I like the guy! So what’s wrong with me?” [Laughter] That conflict made me seek out Dan Ariely and Noam Chomsky to be included in the interview.
Latino-Review: So you admit it that it was a bit uncomfortable since you are a liberal and Democrat.
Randy Murray: Very uncomfortable. I was very uncomfortable. Yet, I felt like I had a job to do. It was really interesting. One of the discussions we had was that it could’ve been very easy for us to do a one-sided slam attack of the sheriff. Quite frankly, it would also be easy to do a one-sided attack on the media for what they’ve allowed to happen. We weighed our options and looked into different types of documentaries. We looked to see on what would be the most powerful and the most impactful. We felt that telling the full story and let the viewer know on why this man was so popular and why the media embraced him so much. By showing the charming and good side, let him make the argument that we all wanted to be protected and he could protect us better. Let the viewer witness what happen on how the media responded to the consequences with the love affair with him.
Latino-Review: It almost seems like he is a narcissist. He’s just basically a media whore.
Randy Murray: How many of our leaders are just like that? How many of our leaders in America today decided to be on TV is more important than really serving the public? I’m afraid to answer that question to be honest.
Latino-Review: So during this entire process, did you believe he was just pulling a bunch of publicity stunts or did he really believe in his actions?
Randy Murray: I believe that he is a politician at heart. I do believe he has conservative leanings and honest feelings on certain things. I do believe that race is an important part on who he is. He brought up race to me many times and we showed it early in the film about his heritage and feelings about that group of people. I do believe he has these core values. They affect him and they got him started.
But, I do believe he doesn’t buy into this. He knows that Obama was born in America. He knows that Maricopa County does not sit on the border. This is the stuff that gets him elected and he wants to be elected. He creates these Joe shows and these stunts for that purpose and that purpose alone. He’s not a fool. His stunts match his core beliefs. They are deviations and abominations of those beliefs.
There’s nothing fiscally conservative about Joe Arpaio. He’s not protecting the community when he’s running these publicity stunts to round up these illegal immigrants. There are these children who were raped and left as victims alone—that’s not conservative and that’s not good police work.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] So you’re essentially saying that he’s not really a racist.
Randy Murray: I didn’t say that! [Laughter] I think racism is a very complicated issue in America today. I think to a degree that his beliefs are based upon race. I believe that. I’m not making judgment on him and took the time to look at the evidence in front of me.
Latino-Review: Now you did mention that him as a character is so likable. How did he manage to pull off his charisma even on you?
Randy Murray: I think that’s the gift that allowed him to become on who he is. He is a likable person. He is nice and charming. You’ll see it when he’s with these reporters. He gets them their storyline. He talks with them and remembers their names and their children’s names. It’s this odd thing for these reporters that it’s essentially their jobs while getting paid and while on the clock. It’s basically they’re visiting the guy they work with or sitting next to them.
He is with a lot of these reporters. He visits them and becomes friendly. For me, he has this humor in which he barks at you; he’s mean and he’s gruff. If you are afraid of that and you’re frightened by it—he continues to push you. Well, I’m not. I’ve been around bullies. I would push back and he loved that. [Laughter] So it was this fun thing. When you’re there and working away, all of the sudden, you would say something and he responds—then it’s funny. We all share that laugh. That’s just human.
One of the things we wanted to explore in the film was on how does a nice person do evil things? How can good people support evil policy? Like how is that nice lady be such a racist? How do we do these things? How do we justify this in our minds and get away with it? That’s one of the reasons on why we have this little bit with Dan Ariely in explaining on how we justify about this stuff.
Latino-Review: How do you keep the balance without turning this into a hit piece then?
Randy Murray: It was a deliberate decision. We felt that a hit piece would diminish the impact the power of the film. We really looked at it on many of these paths. We argued a long time about this. One of the things we believed was – not for the people who already have a position about the sheriff – it’s more for the people who don’t know and people in the future who will take it as a lesson about journalism and politics in America.
When they look at this and don’t know on who Joe is, we want them to fall in love with Joe. We want them to understand on why voters embrace him so wholeheartedly and how he won with such big margins. And then they can take that ride. They, themselves, would have to pick the moment in turn when they don’t feel like they love this man and then they fear him. Where it is in the right? Was a First Amendment issue? Was it a race issue? Or whether it was the crime issues? Bully issues? It’s a reflection on who they are and have a deeper impact on them.
And that’s what we do as filmmakers. We try to impact people in a significant way. We felt that this rollercoaster will have the greatest impact on the viewers.
Latino-Review: I’ve also noticed that you went behind the scenes into his PR spinning machine.
Randy Murray: Yes.
Latino-Review: How did you manage to do that and what did you conclude about his machine there?
Randy Murray: We told them when we were making the film that they had to let us in everywhere. That was the deal. They honored that deal. We got behind the PR machine and we even got behind into the election politics. His PR machine is extremely efficient and effective. I think that many politicians looked at it and said they wanted to do the same thing. I believe that George Bush’s first run is stylized after Joe Arpaio’s
Latino-Review: What do you suppose was the greatest challenge for you on this project?
Randy Murray: The greatest challenge was deciding on when we had a full movie. We had to figure out on how to bring this to an end and it took me years. Then it was deciding on how best to make an impactful movie that last for years as a lesson about democracy and the media.
Latino-Review: For yourself, what’s in the pipeline after “The Joe Show?”
Randy Murray: Because of “The Joe Show,” we got a development deal with Discovery Networks. So we’re working on the TV series now. We also have a couple of documentaries that we are in pre-production on. We own our production company so we’re doing TV commercials and marketing videos all the time.
Latino-Review: When you mentioned more documentaries—are you talking about more about the politicians in the Arizona area?
Randy Murray: No, we’re exploring a documentary right now on the future of democracy and technology. And we’re exploring a documentary on a tribe here in Arizona. One that had been treated very, very poorly by our government.
Latino-Review: Great! Thank you very much for this interview.
Randy Murray: Thank you very much. I appreciate the exposure.
“The Joe Show” is currently available via VOD.