TIFF 2020: The Way I See It Film Review

President Barack Obama walks along the West Colonnade of the White House with Chief White House Photographer Pete Souza Feb. 18, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama walks along the West Colonnade of the White House with Chief White House Photographer Pete Souza Feb. 18, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The Way I See It, directed by Dawn Porter, is an adaptation of the New York Times #1 bestselling book Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents by Pete Souza. It’s fair to say that Souza has had an interesting career, as a photographer, he served as an Official White House photographer under the Reagan and Obama Administrations. The film chronicles Souza’s experiences with both men, particularly focusing on his dynamic with President Obama. 

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden talk with senior staff following a bilateral meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in the Oval Office, Feb. 9, 2015. Present are; Secretary of State John Kerry; Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications; Press Secretary Josh Earnest; Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri; National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The role of a White House Photographer is one of an archivist. They chronicle the daily work of running the United States Government. From mundane rallies, to high-stakes meetings in the Decision Room, to smiles and hugs between people who care about each other, Souza was there to document in picture some of the happiest, saddest, and most stressful moments in Barack Obama’s presidency. Souza made it well known that he was one of the few that had complete access to President Obama. Moreover, Souza makes no secret of his admiration for Obama personally and for the Office of President of the United States. 

President Barack Obama holds a meeting in the Oval Office to prep for a Quad Secure Video Teleconference (SVTC) in the Situation Room of the White House, Feb. 23, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

An Instagram firebrand known for his “shade” (due to an early post referring to the fact that Trump replaced red curtains with gaudy gold drapes in the oval office, in which a commenter ironically referenced Souza as “throwing shade” with drapes), Souza has received national attention post-2017 for his Instagram commentary highlighting moments he captured on film during Obama’s presidency…usually as a critique of President Trump. By comparing his experiences in Reagan and Obama administrations to what we see of the Trump Administration, Souza argues that for the value of the President as a leader, to set an example in empathy and basic decency for the country to follow. An incredibly poignant line from the film highlighting the Sandy Hook school shooting regarding President Obama’s character, “There is no substitute for empathy.” Conversely, the film reveals a phone call made by President Trump to a soldier’s next of kin regarding his death. It is conveyed that President Trump could not remember the name of the soldier and came across as curt and unfeeling. 

President Barack Obama participates in one in a series of meetings in the Situation Room of the White House discussing the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Seated, from left, are: Brigadier General Marshall B. ‘Brad’ Webb, Assistant Commanding General, Joint Special Operations Command; Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Standing, from left, are: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Tony Binken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; Audrey Tomason Director for Counterterrorism; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The film is largely composed of footage and pictures of moments in the Obama Administration, both big and small, and are interspersed with commentary from Souza and others who worked with or were impacted by Obama. The Way I See It presents a strong narrative throughout, with some excellent, emotionally gripping editing work. As an extraordinarily divided nation, some may not appreciate the film’s message. It is very cognizant of current politics, and Souza makes no secret of his disapproval of President Trump; indeed, a comparison between Trump and Obama is at the heart of the film’s essence. Nevertheless, the film is gripping, contains compelling subject matter, and, frankly, makes a strong argument. The film presents a sense of nostalgia for a time when the world didn’t feel quite so damn upside-down.

The Way I See It is in U.S. theaters on September 18, 2020 and will premiere on MSNBC on October 16, 2020 (date has been updated) at 10 p.m. EST.

About Jillian Dale 24 Articles
Film festival coverage and digital content ninja.

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