New documentary about Jimmy Carter

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JONATHAN DEMME is a bit of an opportunist.

Other less-alert types might have visited Scotty’s Fish and Chips in a rough-and-tumble part of town here, been impressed by the oxtail stew, the friendly staff and the humble but spotless surroundings, and then come back for lunch. But Mr. Demme, the director of more than two dozen films, liked the restaurant so much he decided to rewrite a scene previously set in an arcade in “Dancing With Shiva,” a feature film starring Anne Hathaway he’s filming nearby, and shoot it there instead.

Mr. Demme generally tends to mix art and life in his films, most recently blending his admiration for a former president and a persistent interest in politics into “Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains,” which will begin showing in New York, Los Angeles and three other cities on Friday.

But even someone as astute as Mr. Demme could not have predicted that after he agreed to make the movie, Mr. Carter would re-enter the news in a big way by titling his 2006 book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” Mr. Demme had planned to travel with Mr. Carter to Iran and the scene of the 1979 hostage-taking that doomed his presidency, to ask whether that crisis was really the defeat it had been portrayed as. But what might have been a nice bit of hagiography and re-contextualization was overtaken by the debate that roiled around the former president and his not particularly felicitous choice for a book title. Mr. Carter’s decision to invoke South Africa’s segregation in the context of Israel provoked a firestorm, and the resulting brouhaha recast Mr. Demme’s film into a full-blown look into how hot-button issues move through the apparatus of the American news media.

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