"By the People: The Election of Barack Obama" (★★★ 1/2 stars; 8 p.m. HBO) is a shoo-in for a spot in U.S. political history, right alongside the documentary "The War Room" and the books "The Boys on the Bus" and "What It Takes."

Unlike those past efforts, the film by Amy Rice and Alicia Sams isn't terribly interested in strategy. If you want to learn how to win the presidency, you're better off reading "The Art of War." Instead, the filmmakers focus on the fervor, fatigue and fortitude required to survive (and thrive) modern-day campaigning. The crew was both stubborn -- and lucky -- enough to be there in the early days, when Obama was trying to drum up interest at country carnivals, to election night, when cameras get a peek into the hotel suite where the family learned they'd be moving to the White House.

Obama dissenters are not likely to change their stripes during the movie. In fact, the doc more or less affirms the president's "movie-star coolness," which is seen by some as a detriment. But ultimately, "By the People" is not political propaganda. It's a look at a long, hard journey by dedicated filmmakers who probably would have created an equally fascinating film about John McCain. If more politicians allowed this kind of access, we'd have smarter documentaries -- and a smarter country.

NEAL JUSTIN