These are divisive times for Americans. Even with film criticism, you’ll discover a great divide when it comes to blockbuster features like the Star Wars or Marvel franchise reactions. All this to say that a documentary like The Way I See It will most certainly be disregarded and vilified by some. Told from the perspective of a man who spent time with both the Reagan and the Obama administration, it’s as much an exploration of that as well as the subjects’ concern over the current political climate. Directed by Dawn Porter, this look at the White House through the camera lens of Former Cheif Official White House Photographer Pete Souza is compelling and inspired; thankfully the subject matter is nearly as colorful as the powerful men he’s photographed.
During President Barack Obama’s eight years in the Oval Office, Pete Souza spent much of his life as a fly on the wall. He captured the President during the best and the worst of times. Before that, he worked under Ronald Reagan. The film begins with this, a twenty-something young man hired to follow the president and his family around for photo ops. As important as this should be, the film spends a short time discussing this period. Still, there’s something truly charming about watching President Reagan and the First Lady discuss whether to use a chainsaw during a photoshoot. It’s a rare and wonderful thing to see. However, it was his next assignment as a White House photographer that gave Mr. Souza a deeper look into what happens behind closed doors.
Your enjoyment of this film is likely to stem from how you feel about our current administration. There is certainly a group out there that won’t be interested in a documentary that criticizes the current Commander-in-Chief. If you are part of that, then it’s a safe bet that you’ll have no desire or interest in the story Dawn and her subject are telling. And frankly, many of these pictures we’ve seen, and many of these historic moments we’ve given witness to before. Yet this documentary takes us deeper inside to get a sense of just how closely Pete was allowed to venture into what was once unimaginable. Unlike the previous occupants in the White House, President Obama gave Souza an unfiltered look inside not only the professional aspects of his job but the private life he shared with his family.
After his time working for the government, Pete Souza wasn’t quite prepared to speak out against what is going on in the world today. Yet the photographer finally felt that it was time to open up with the first-hand knowledge he’d acquired about his work with the former presidents. The film expands on his reasoning for “trolling” the current First Family on Instagram with some of the many photographs that he’d taken throughout Obama’s two-term presidency. It also follows Souza’s news appearances and the reason why he wanted to open up. This is certainly a politically driven film. And yes, it takes a very clear stand on which side it puts focus on. If you prefer a more bipartisan look at the experiences of a photographer in the White House, this is not it.
Thankfully the subject matter is dealt with in such a way, that we get to see a very personal side to Pete Souza and why he made the decisions he did. One of the best moments of the film is when he and his wife were married – having the wonderfully talented Brandi Carlile play at your wedding is about as good as it gets. Again, as political as this may be, the personal side is the key. In no way does Souza come across as a man with a duplicitous agenda. No, he’s simply a man who decided he must speak up at a time when many others are doing the same. All of this is accentuated by the iconic photographs that he saw as a way to capture history. The darker moments are especially moving. It’s impossible to not be moved by the victims of gun violence or the moments where tough decisions had to be made.
The Way I See It is about as true a title as a movie can have. This is one man’s experience in a very complex political world. The film explores the career of an official White House photographer who worked with two of the most iconic presidents in history. It’s also a clear judgment on the current administration and how they’ve handled the issues that have arisen since. Thankfully, much of this is a warm and humane look at Pete Souza’s career and how it has turned him into a bit of an activist. The photographs are glorious, and you can’t help but delight in Mr. Souza’s story. This very personal take is something that many Americans will happily embrace, and thankfully, even with the clear point of view that it offers, it does so in a sincere and well-intentioned manner.