Photographing a President is about as apolitical a job as it gets. At least, that’s how it traditionally was. For Pete Souza, he was simply a photojournalist, albeit one of the most respected ones in the political sphere, until the most recent election, that is. This transformation, as well as the remarkable images and stories he found himself capturing, make up the terrific new documentary The Way I See It. Getting released in theaters on Friday, it will also be able to be seen on October 9th over on MSNBC. No matter where you watch it (though ideally go see it this weekend), it’s a must see.
The documentary is a look at both how photographer Pete Souza captured images from two very different Presidents, but also how the current occupant of the Oval Office has driven him to speak up like never before. Based in part on his New York Times #1 bestselling books, as well as his book tours, there’s a split between Souza giving lectures, utilizing his pictures for anecdotes, and talking heads. As the Official White House Photographer for both terms of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, Souza was on the frontlines of history, an eyewitness to what it takes to be a leader. His camera caught not just the tremendous responsibility of being the most powerful person on the planet, but also what these men were like as husbands, fathers, and just human beings. The best moments include his recollections of interactions with Obama. Then, there’s a turn, as we see how the election of Donald Trump has turned Souza from a simple and apolitical photojournalist to an unwavering commentator on both the issues of the day, as well as the character of Trump. Dawn Porter directs, with cinematography by Clair Popkin and Keith Walker. Marco Beltrami, Brandon Roberts, and Buck Sanders composed the score.
Whether he’s throwing shade at Donald Trump or reminiscing about the Obama years, Pete Souza is a quietly compelling figure. His musings about Barack Obama, in particular, are emotional and stirring. Two moments really stand out. Souza’s capturing of Obama after the Sandy Hook massacre will break your heart, while his anecdote about the time the President stepped in to coach his daughter’s basketball team will make you cackle with laughter. It’s impossible not to note the difference between the most recent occupant of the White House and the current one. At his core, that’s what Souza is trying to show people, and he succeeds brilliantly at it.
The Way I See It is largely fantastic. However, it does have one small issue that may rub some people the wrong way. There’s a lot of Souza’s book tour here, so it could seem like he’s trying to sell copies of his two books. That being said, some of the bigger laughs in the doc come from that, and his book Shade is actually a riot, so it fits the story being told. So, while it didn’t bother yours truly, it might ring false at times to others. It’s just something to keep in mind about an otherwise flawless and affecting picture.
This weekend (in theaters, with MSNBC coming next month), audiences looking for a wonderful new documentary, and especially those who want to remember a different period in American politics, should 100% seek out The Way I See It. Pete Souza is a compelling figure, seeing President Obama in these candid manners is terrific, and it just makes you feel good inside. How many docs (excluding the medical ones) can do that?
Be sure to check out The Way I See It, available to watch on Friday in theaters and on MSNBC October 9th!
(Photos courtesy of Focus Features)