Director Dawn Porter is responsible for two of the more notable political documentaries of the year: “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” about the late Georgia congressman John Lewis, and “The Way I See It,” the story of White House photographer Pete Souza. The director was about two-thirds into production on “Good Trouble” before taking on “The Way I See It,” and she was struck by how much the two films feel of a piece. “The movies speak to each other for me,” says Porter in a new interview with Gold Derby. “John Lewis was saying, ‘Say something. Get in the way,’ and that’s exactly what Pete was doing. It just really felt like such a natural transition.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.
It wasn’t always easy to get Congressman Lewis to provide meaningful reflections on his life’s work in between meetings or in his free time at home. That is why Porter made the choice to have him sit in a room and have him comment on archival footage projected on multiple screens, free from outside distractions. “I think for him it was just a matter of finding the right place to put him in to tell us his story,” states Porter, “and he did it so beautifully.” The film jumps back and forth in time from his early activist days to his work over the past few years supporting various Democratic candidates. “I thought his past really informed his present and I wanted to examine that,” the director explains, of her decision to present the film non-chronologically.
For “The Way I See It,” which explores Souza’s time as the photographer for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama‘s presidencies, Porter had to convince her subject that the film would be about him and his perspective. “The biggest challenge I had with Pete was convincing him that his evolution into a person speaking up was also something important to say,” recalls Porter, “that he literally could not be a fly on the wall anymore, that some things are too important.”
The director wanted to make sure the film was not merely a slideshow of Souza’s work but a commentary on key values a president should have that go beyond policy. “They had to be part of a larger story about big ideas like compassion and how important it is to be able to have a president who’s a consoler in chief,” observes Porter. “That’s not the first thing you think of when you think of a president but it is something that I will always think of now.”
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