They are brothers divided over politics. But are the partisan teasing and sibling rivalry between Brad Woodhouse, former Democratic National Committee spokesman, and Dallas Woodhouse, former director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity (the conservative group founded by the Koch brothers), the makings of a great film?
Bryan Miller thinks so, and he has spent the past four years shooting a documentary with the brothers at its center. Now, the first-time filmmaker is lobbying to get his 72-minute movie, Woodhouse Divided, into various film festivals nationwide, including at the American Film Institute’s events in the Washington area this summer.
The film captures the brothers passionately picking fights in public and private over health care and other issues during President Obama’s first term and the 2012 campaign, including at family get-togethers over Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“It’s all straight, totally real, and sometimes crazy—they’re both big personalities,” said Miller, who added that he tries not to take sides between the two.
Brad, 46, and Dallas, 40, both say they like the movie. “And I think it’s an interesting story,” Brad said. “I think it reflects a time when a lot of families are divided along lines of partisanship, and how they feel about issues and policy.”
In the film, the brothers are constantly poking fingers and fun at each other, occasionally causing their mother, Joyce Woodhouse, to cringe. “They get a little heated,” said Joyce, who lives in Raleigh and was herself once executive assistant to former North Carolina Democratic Gov. Terry Sanford.
When they visit or share time at the beach, she says, they both have a habit of conducting business loudly on their phones. She makes it a point to never divulge information she overhears from one to the other. She also refuses to tell her sons which presidential candidate earned her vote. “They both think I voted for their candidate. And I’m keeping my mouth shut,” she said.
The big question—not particularly answered in the film—is exactly why or how brothers who grew up together, once shared a place as adults, and are both now married with two young children could drift so far apart politically. Joyce says she can’t explain it, offering what is sure to become her standard line. “I rocked them as babies in the same rocker,” she said.
For Brad, who waves the Democratic banner, there is no clear answer for why Dallas, who has spent his career in North Carolina, views things differently. “I really don’t know how to explain it other than he’s become an angry not-so-old white guy,” he joked.
But Dallas responds that he’s always been a little more center-right, and that it was Brad who “changed” after he left the state for Washington “and lost all common sense.”
“He fights his battles and I fight mine,” Dallas said, adding that “I can get under his skin. And he starts yelling. He gets madder about it than I do.”
Naturally, Brad doesn’t agree. “I’m the first one who tries to defuse these situations—because if I am with my brother and my wife, I’m getting double-teamed,” he said. (Brad is married to Jessica Carter, chief of staff to Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee.)
Brad says their family was involved in politics as long as he can remember, usually as Democrats in North Carolina state and local races. He most recently spent five years at the DNC, helping to lead the messaging wars over the Affordable Care Act and other issues, and he has since rejoined Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group, as president, and runs the Democratic super PAC American Bridge. His primary role is daily rapid response to Republican candidates.
Dallas, a former on-air television host and political reporter, launched a new nonprofit organization in North Carolina called Carolina Rising in April after working with Americans for Prosperity. In that role he was a highly visible critic of Obamacare and the state’s two previous Democratic governors.
Indeed, health care is a point of friction between the two, at least according to Dallas, who is diabetic. “The maddest I ever got at my brother was when I lost my endocrinologist—a single-practice endocrinologist,” he said, noting that the doctor told him he could no longer practice under Obamacare. “I called up my brother and cussed him out for trying to kill me!”
In fact, the documentary has its roots in health care, addressing some of Dallas’s three-year crusade against the law—and against the efforts of his older brother to sell it.
Miller says he started filming Dallas about five years ago at some “Hands Off of Health Care” events, then went up to D.C. and met Brad. His intention was to do “a quick little 20-minute short on health care.” But then the broader story struck him.
“They are two totally polar opposite brothers—yet, at the end of the day they get along and truly love each other,” he said.
As Dallas put it, “The truth is that a lot of families who have disagreements might see their own lives in this movie.”
This article appears in the May 1, 2014 edition of NJ Daily as Woodhouse Divided.