Lest you be reluctant to watch another ‘political documentary’ as we steam toward Election Day (I know I was), please take note: The Way I See It is not so much about politics as it is about humanity, compassion, integrity and leadership – as captured in a series of fascinating photographs featuring two iconic Presidents – Republican and Democrat. And, it is most definitely worth seeing.
This latest film from Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble) focuses on renowned photojournalist Pete Souza and his years as the Chief Official White House Photographer during the Obama administration and, to a lesser degree, his time as an Official White House Photographer for President Ronald Reagan — two leaders who differed greatly on policy but shared a great respect for the Office of the President and the responsibilities that came with it. If you think you know where this is going… you are right, sort of. Souza hates Trump. And he’s become an Instagram hero with an account that throws shade at Trump by posting images of Obama that serve as powerful counter-points to various Trump tweets. Souza’s pictures are worth well over a thousand words or character counts. They. Are. Priceless.
The documentary is inspired by two of Souza’s books – “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents” and “Obama: An Intimate Portrait” and it uses Souza’s book tour and speaking engagements to bookend the film’s narrative and explain how Souza found himself transformed from apolitical fly on the wall, to searing commentator on myriad issues facing the country today. It also interweaves informative and charming insights about Souza from the likes of presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and former Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
Politics aside, however, what makes The Way I See It immensely moving and entertaining is the treasure trove of images and the stories they tell. Snapshots of moments in time – revealing joy, heartbreak, tragedy, celebration, and every emotion in between. Souza’s job provided him unique access. He shadowed Obama as much as the Secret Service and was, in essence, a historian with a camera – always at the ready to document fleeting moments, big and small. The result is authentic photos that reveal mood, emotion and context. The Way I See It is about the power of the photograph.
The politics – while pertinent to the times we are in – can get downright depressing, with all the reminders of leadership lost. The way I see it, this documentary should be recut and tightened up someday, to ditch the shade and bring more spectacular photos to light.
The Way I See It will be released in theaters on September 18, with a television premiere on MSNBC on Friday, October 16th at 10 p.m. EDT. Mark your calendars. Fingers crossed it won’t be chopped up with a gazillion commercials.