When Nanette Burstein agreed to direct Hulu’s Hillary Clinton documentary “Hillary” in 2018, she knew she didn’t want to focus on the one thing everyone would expect it to be about: the 2016 election, of which she acquired thousands of hours of footage filmed during Clinton’s campaign. “Right away I did not want to make a film about the campaign. I felt like it was too raw and too soon and more than that,” Burstein told Gold Derby during our Meet the Experts: Documentary panel (watch above). “I felt that there was a story that was much more important to tell.”
Instead, Burstein, who co-directed the Oscar-nominated “On the Ropes” (1999), widened the scope of the project to incorporate the story of Clinton’s life and her impact on the women’s movement from her days at Wellesley College to the women’s march sparked by her 2016 loss. The four-part series jumps back and forth between her chronological life story and her year on the campaign trail.
“Suddenly I had this entrée to this woman who I thought was this incredible figure in American history and I could present this bigger, great tale incorporating this footage but broadening it out to tell the story of her life, which ultimately encompassed the arc of the women’s movement as well as our history of our partisan politics,” Burstein explained. “It became clear there were certain standout moments that we wanted to include for various reasons, a lot of which were, this is really telling, not about 2016, but about Hillary Clinton as a person, either as far as her personality goes or as far as a bigger picture of who she is and what she represents as opposed to this moment of getting in the rabbit hole of the 2016 election. There was a bunch of footage that was left on the cutting room floor that would be much more inside baseball if you were doing a campaign film, so it was really about what was important to tell in her story as a person and a political figure over the last 50 years.”
Burstein interviewed the former first lady and secretary of state over seven days in three separate visits. She was “absolutely conscious” of Clinton’s polarizing public image — there are just as many people who think they don’t know her at all as there are people who think they know everything about her, not to mention all those conspiracy theories.
“They feel like she’s guarded, so that was my first question: ‘People say they know who you are yet they don’t know who you are, and why is that?’ That’s kind of the framework. Why don’t we know who you are, why do you seem so guarded? So much of the story had to do with that ultimately,” Burstein said, adding that Clinton opened up more during her second visit. “It was a delight. I just got this whole other side of her. But it took time, and I was really fortunate that she was willing to give me that time and opportunity to get someone who’s been guarded for so many years for so many reasons, which I include in the series, to open up like that.”
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