Hail to the Chief

A LIFELONG MUSIC LOVER, DAVE Kirkpatrick ’89, never imagined that one day he’d be a part of a major documentary featuring the likes of Willie Nelson, Gregg Allman, Jimmy Buffett, and Bob Dylan—let alone that he would befriend the film’s star, the 39th president of the United States. But after four years on the project, the rookie film producer helped create the critically acclaimed Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, which sheds light on Carter’s close ties to popular Southern rock musicians, both during the 1976 presidential campaign and well into his time in the White House.

Dave Kirkpatrick ’89 with former President Jimmy Carter, the subject of the film Kirkpatrick coproduced, Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President.

Dave Kirkpatrick ’89 with former President Jimmy Carter, the subject of the film Kirkpatrick coproduced, Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President

“I’ve always been a music junkie. I read all sorts of rock biographies and watch a lot of documentaries, but that was never my area of expertise,” says Kirkpatrick, whose Taft connection also includes having served as chair of the Annual Fund, serving as a board member, and being father to Mary Elizabeth ’23. Within a few years of graduating from Denison University, he moved to Atlanta hoping to work in sports. He landed at the Collegiate Licensing Co., where he has remained for the past 26 years and is currently vice president, non-apparel, overseeing partnerships with more than 800 colleges and universities.

His foray into filmmaking began in June 2016, when a close friend with experience in the Carter administration invited him to dinner with the former president and first lady. “I prepared for it like I was writing a term paper,” Kirkpatrick chuckles. “For 45 days, I was laser focused on really taking full advantage of the opportunity. I read a number of books and visited the Carter Center, so I could become as knowledgeable as possible.”

A few weeks later, he received another dinner invitation, this time from his former Denison roommate. “He was having dinner with two filmmakers who wanted to do a documentary about the Allman Brothers, but when that fell through, he told them how President Carter had this close relationship with music and musicians,” Kirkpatrick says. “Knowing my interest in music and Carter, he called me and asked if I’d like to meet them.” Right away, Kirkpatrick’s interest was piqued, and he wanted to help get the film off the ground however he could.

They sent a tentative script to the Carter Center and offered to donate some of the profits to the organization, and within a month, the project had Carter’s approval. From there, the film’s director, Mary Wharton, and producer Chris Farrell began conducting interviews— not only with rock luminaries, but also with prominent diplomats like Andrew Young and Madeleine Albright.

“At first, I was something of a bystander. I raised some money and kept the Atlanta team connected,” Kirkpatrick says. “The interviews were really going well, but the piece that wasn’t falling into place was the financial component. When it came to actually building the movie, the editing process, securing rights to the 42 songs in the film, we didn’t have enough to make it happen.”

That’s when Kirkpatrick found a way to become much more involved. “I stepped up and became the primary financer of the project, establishing my own small production company, Thunder Moccasin Pictures,” he says. “And in return for making that commitment, the team agreed to educate me about the entire process, including the financial model, the sales process, film festivals, all of it.”

“I was also able to get to know the Carter family and President Carter,” Kirkpatrick says. “Growing up, I didn’t have a real intimate knowledge of his presidency. But when you learn more about his diverse interest and what he’s done for civil rights, for conservation, for peace—it’s amazing.”

As the film finds its audience—released first in a limited 80-cinema run in fall 2020 before being shown on CNN and now available on streaming services like HBO Max and Amazon Prime—Kirkpatrick hopes that it will provide viewers muchneeded inspiration. “It’s coming out at a time when the country’s going through some hard times, and we need reassurance that there is good, genuine leadership out there,” Kirkpatrick says. “It’s been so gratifying to hear from friends who told me that they started watching and couldn’t stop, and that the film is educational and inspiring—with great tunes to boot!”

And rock lovers and film buffs alike may have more chances to enjoy a Thunder Moccasin picture. “I’ve learned a lot and really had a lot of fun building a movie and telling a good story,” Kirkpatrick adds. “As a result of this project, I have been approached by some interesting people. If the right project were to come along, I’d certainly entertain it.”

—Christopher Browner ’12