Jeffrey Tuchman, filmmaker who introduced Bill Clinton to America, dies at 62

Jeffrey Tuchman, a prolific filmmaker who helped introduce Bill Clinton to America and won awards for exploring topics such as civil rights and the evolution of modern medicine, has died.

Tuchman died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 62 and was being treated for pancreatic cancer.

As a filmmaker and writer, Tuchman seemed to bounce freely from the hard-boiled politics of the D.C. Beltway to the margins of America.

He helped develop the narrative of Clinton as a humble man with small-town values and big city vision in “The Man From Hope,” a 17-minute film that introduced the future president at the 1992 Democratic convention.

And in “Way Out,” he told the story of a gay, middle-aged father of two in rural Georgia, struggling to find the way and the will to come out to his family.

“Jeffrey had a fierce sense of justice, a fundamental decency and an extraordinary talent for storytelling,” said Mandy Grunwald, a noted political consultant who worked with Tuchman over the decades.

In all, Tuchman made more than 30 documentaries, some short explorations and others ambitious projects, such as “Voices of Civil Rights,” which premiered at the Smithsonian, aired on the History Channel and won both Emmy and Peabody awards.

He also produced political advertising, most notably for Clinton when he ran for president, and for Hillary Clinton when she ran for the U.S. Senate and, most recently, president.

Born on July 17, 1955, in New York City to a pair of Holocaust survivors — his father in Poland, his mother in Hungary — Tuchman attended Hampshire College, but left to pursue filmmaking, working with Ken and Rick Burns, among others.

“It had all the things that interested me,” Tuchman said in a 2003 interview. “It had pictures, and I was a photographer. It had words, and I was a writer. It had music, and I was a musician. All these things seemed to come together in this one form.”

Tuchman initially worked as a filmmaker for Public Agenda, a nonprofit research organization launched by former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and public opinion analyst Daniel Yankelovich.

In 1992, Grunwald introduced Tuchman to Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the Hollywood writer and producer and close Clinton friend, and asked them to work together on a film for the approaching Democratic convention.

Turning on a dime — actually, three weeks — Tuchman and Bloodworth-Thomason created a documentary that humanized Clinton to a nation as yet unfamiliar with the future president.

In the film, the candidate came across as refreshingly honest as he spoke about growing up with an alcoholic stepfather, marital infidelity and the deep well of inspiration that he drew from his hometown of Hope, Ark.

“‘The Man From Hope’ is still the best candidate film ever made,” Grunwald said.

In 2003, Tuchman directed the documentary “Mavericks, Miracles and Medicine,” a four-part examination of the roots of medical breakthroughs, sometimes by physicians who used themselves as guinea pigs or medical researchers who suffered career setbacks for advancing theories that seemed foolhardy or far-fetched.

One was a 19th century Hungarian doctor who deduced his colleagues were spreading disease and death by failing to wash their hands as they moved from conducting autopsies to delivering babies.

The doctor was derided, though a general understanding of germs and basic hygiene was not far off.

At the time of his death, Tuchman was working on “Testimony,” which was to document his father’s return to Germany to testify in a war crimes trial. He also was at work on a six-part documentary for public television on health and poverty in California.

Tuchman, who never married, is survived by his 95-year-old father, Marcel, and a brother, Peter.

steve.marble@latimes.com

Twitter: @stephenmarble

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