Following the summer release of Dawn Porter’s acclaimed documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble, the director is back with her second non-fictional film of the year, The Way I See It, about Pete Souza , the official White House photographer for Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan While two seemingly different stories, one focuses on the life and career of the late Congressman and civil rights activist and the other follows the career path of the photojournalist after leaving the White House, Porter sees them as two chapters in the same book
« John Lewis kept saying that if you see something that’s not right, not right, not just say something, do something, get in good trouble, » the filmmaker told AND « And I think Pete is in big trouble »
After spending years working for Obama, Souza underwent a public transformation from « columnist of history » to critic of the Donald Trump administration by using photographs of the former president to contrast with the actions of his successor, who was captured in the book, Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents
Trained to report the facts, Porter says it was no small feat for Souza to become an outspoken activist decades after his professional life. « I really think these are chapters in the same book on how whose patriotism you express, how you express love for the country and concern for others « , Porter continues
With The Way I See It now in select theaters and airing ad-free Friday, October 16 at 10 p.m. on MSNBC, Porter talks to ET about what made him want to tell Souza’s story, find balance between capturing her work and revisiting Obama’s presidency, and how she hopes these films will resonate ahead of the election
Dawn Porter: I was just finishing my work on a movie about Congressman John Lewis and I was deeply moved by the process of working on that movie And John Lewis’ big encouragement was « speak up , use your voice « And when I met Pete and saw what he was doing, I was like, that’s exactly what he does. So that was just a perfect project to move on to because it was like living the wishes of the congressman
And then you know it’s really the pictures It’s the pictures and I needed some happiness in my life Things looked so dark and a little bit hopeless and I wanted to remember myself but also remind people what decent and empathetic leadership looked like
While this is a lot of Pete’s journey, sometimes it’s hard not to feel like it’s about the President too. Was it difficult to find a balance in the focus?
The title of the film is The Way I See It and Pete was in a room where so few people are and he took almost two million pictures What if the portrait he shares with us is so unique So I really wanted as many people as possible to experience these photos But I also really wanted it to be about the presidency, this office I think sometimes it’s hard to think about how the presidency affects us at the everyday And I think what the photos show are people always thinking of others as they make decisions that affect us all I think now we know what impact the presidency has on people and we know the difference between strong leadership and chaotic leadership, but I really wanted to continue this journey and for people to see it through Pete’s eyes
Does that take into account the film’s release and the fact that we are approaching the presidential election, when people probably look to Obama and then compare his time in power with that of Trump?
Absolutely And it’s not just Obama, it’s also President Reagan I mean, you couldn’t have people with two more different political philosophies than Reagan and Obama And so the movie is not a analysis of one of those presidents or the policies of either of those presidents It’s about a more basic thing, which is human decency, empathy, and kindness And, you know, about respecting the president’s office And that’s not something we see today We can never say enough about it, that it’s abnormal Pete says he wouldn’t have been in this movie whether Mitt Romney was president or some other type of regular Republican We’re in abnormal times and in that vein it’s important to point out
You said Pete took two million photos What kind of process did you go through to figure out which ones to highlight or which stories to tell here?
I studied a number of Pete’s presentations and speeches And then the editor, Jessica Congdon, came up with themes that we wanted to explore through pictures And this really comes from Pete’s speeches on empathy , hard work, compassion and intelligence
Then we created these bins of photos and stories that we could possibly lean into We were still spinning when the world closed [amid the coronavirus pandemic], so we had to change and we couldn’t have as many backstage stories as we wanted And I couldn’t spend as much time with Pete as I wanted So the pictures take a lot more center stage But it’s okay It’s his trip to through what he saw back when he was I think he shared a really important perspective
I have a lot of them I really love – and they are influenced by the day and time and what happens in the news – but I really loved the photos of Obama when he looks to think really hard Like, he struggles with things because that’s what you want in a leader You know, very early on, Pete and so many other people pointed out that easy questions don’t happen to the president. easy questions can be dealt with by others It is only the questions most important for our whole country that get to the president
How do you hope people connect with not only The Way I See It, but John Lewis: Good Trouble as well, especially as we head into November and think about the election?
One of the things I have mourned the most is our lack of trust in government and government officials so hopefully between the two movies you see a portrait of people who have the right people in their minds that it helps restore some confidence in our government and our leaders But these are people fighting for the best part of our souls John Lewis always said to look for people to come together And I think Pete says we should throw off the darker impulses in society and look at what is a universal human good, which is concern, care and empathy
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World News – United States – Why John Lewis and Pete Souza Papers Are Chapters of the Same Book
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