Nadia Hallgren Interview: ‘Becoming’ director
Nadia Hallgren remembers exactly how her day was going when she received a phone call about making a documentary about former First Lady Michelle Obama. “I was having a pretty normal day about a year-and-a-half ago until the phone rang. [Priya Swaminathan] tells me that Michelle Obama is getting ready to go on this worldwide book tour and that they were floating this idea of documenting it,” says Hallgren in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). The people at Higher Ground Productions were looking for someone who could handle several tasks including directing and cinematography. Still, it was a while before she actually got to sit down with Obama. “I had to have a few more calls before I was actually in front of the former first lady a few weeks later.”
“Becoming,” which is currently streaming on Netflix, follows Obama for her book tour across the U.S. for her memoir of the same name. Appearances at events with huge crowds are a part of it but we also get to see Obama in more intimate settings including with younger people, and young women of color in particular, and her family including her mother and brother. The film marks the debut feature from Hallgren. Prior to this she had made several documentary shorts and also had been a longtime cinematographer for various documentaries.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film is that we get to see Obama’s two daughters, Malia and Sasha, in a way that we have never gotten to see them before. Hallgren explains, “She goes on this worldwide book tour while during a time when the girls were at school, so they weren’t around that much on the road when we were filming.” While Mrs. Obama requested that the girls not be filmed while they were at home, there were several opportunities to film them during the tour. “They were very candid and open about just hanging out with their mom and we were allowed to be present for that.”
To have this kind of film serve as Hallgren’s first feature is very surreal for her. “It’s still kind of hard to wrap my head around that because it’s almost a dream.” But it’s a dream that she believes she was uniquely ready for considering she’s been working in documentary films for 17 years and that she’s worked her way up from being a production assistant. “I really felt prepared for this opportunity and it’s so exciting to me that Mrs. Obama chose me to make this film.”