The Way I See It Review TIFF 2020

The Plot

A documentary giving voice to former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza allowing him a platform to reflect on his lengthy career and express his views on his intimate time working in the Obama presidency and his clearly strong views on its aftermath

The Good

Throughout a lengthy and much lauded career working with several vastly different presidential administrations from Ronald Regan to Obama, Pete Souza is responsible for many highly iconic images that have consistently captured truly private moments for ‘the leaders of the free world’.  The film serves as a very effective portrait of the daily reality of this truly unique role and the relationship Souza enjoyed with his Presidential masters.

The film showcase an astonishing archive of imagery and raw video footage illustrating the moments of presidential history and private triumphs & tragedy that his work captured. It’s an astonishing level of shared access and insight for history buffs. It’s also a very open reflection on the art and purpose of photography, particularly in the modern world.  The film is very articulate in assessing the persistent value of still images in a world of 24hr video coverage and digital media.

The film is well composed and set against an upbeat soundtrack this is both jaunty and celebratory. It slickly takes audiences into the most intimate corners of the private corridors of political power. It’s shamelessly sentimental and particularly for those who already look back with nostalgic fondness for the seemingly optimistic Obama political era it will be a welcome escape from the worries of 2020.

The Bad

While Pete Souza has had a unique position and level of access to the highest levels of American political power it’s fairly clear from the opening moments of this documentary that he does have his own personal political views and that this documentary is very much a vehicle for him to express those views.

The film has barely begun when Souza immediately launches into strongly worded attacks on the Trump presidency. It’s perhaps not surprising to hear him express concerns echoed by half of American society, but it’s a clear choice to open the film with an explicit statement that this is a documentary designed primarily to show how a ‘real President should behave’. It immediately turns a shamelessly affectionate celebration of President Obama into an explicitly confrontational political statement. The persistent and explicit running attacks throughout the film on the Trump administration only really serve to make the film even more explicitly partisan.

Likewise while some will admire the work Souza produced, others in an age where every smart phone has a camera will be far less impressed by the simple act of constantly rattling off thousands of shots with a high speed digital camera. Souza’s steady stream of highly emotional often tear stained anecdotes also do risk being seen at times as somewhat self-aggrandizing. There’s only so many times you can proudly remind an audience of how special your job and access was before you start to sound a little too self-important.

It’s no accident that this film is being realised in a Presidential election year and it is undeniably an explicit act of political propaganda by one of President Obama’s most loyal servants. The films persistent overt political campaigning perhaps tarnishes the ability of the film to serve as a more apolitical portrait of the modern American history. In truth the film might as well actually be handing out Vote Biden stickers.

The Ugly Truth

The film serves as a valuable archive of intimate presidential images and footage. Those who admire former President Obama, especially those who loath the current administration will no doubt particularly welcome this shamelessly nostalgic love letter to those 8 years. Those who have a passion and fascination for politics and photography in a wider sense will also find plenty to captivate them. Though it goes without saying those of a different political persuasion will find Souza’s partisan personal opinions to be deeply off-putting.

Review by Russell Nelson

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