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Way I See It, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Will Give Faux News' Tucker Carlson an Absolute Hissy Fit"
4 stars

A refreshing break from big-budget superhero movies.

I went through photojournalist Pete Souza's picture book Obama: An Intimate Portrait when it first came out and thought it awfully good not knowing the first thing about photography myself (to this day I still don't know why the light in darkrooms can only be red), but I didn't see how the documentary The Way I See It about Souza, who was the official White House photographer for both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, could be all that interesting. As it turns out, though, it's more enjoyable than the last four theatrical releases I've seen, and what puts it over is how Souza emerges as a genuinely interesting subject. We're shown clips from several Q & A sessions on Souza's speaking tour, with one of the questions how someone with his job can remain politically neutral, with him replying he considered himself a "historian with a camera." Upon accepting the job offer to cover all the years under Obama Souza made clear he'd only do so with unfettered access, and the schedule was grueling in that, with the President on the job 24/7, Souza needed to be ready at a moment's notice; at the same time, in covering everything from meetings with foreign leaders, poignant moments between Obama and his family, and, as Souza is sad to say there were unfortunately too many, Obama comforting the surviving family members of national tragedies (with the one that affected the president the most the elementary school Sandy Hook mass shooting), he needed to be active in getting the best shot while remaining invisible and unobtrusive behind the scenes. We get moments from many of Obama's achievements ranging from getting the Affordable Care Act passed to the killing of Osama bin Laden to his bravura handling of the swine flu epidemic, but Souza is also glad of having the access and permission to capture Obama's face when he was unsure of something. (Souza makes sure we know the insidious Trump administration has not granted the same access to their current photographer, which Souza states is innately indifferent to an impartial historical record.) In a touching sequence Souza relates how the ever-romantic, solid-family-man Obama was always pushing his dating associates to get married, resulting in Obama convincing Souza to wed his longtime girlfriend in the Rose Garden with Obama himself presiding over the ceremony. Souza points out how Obama's staff differentiated with his predecessors in having more women and minorities in the room with him, and when you see old photos of previous administrations, especially in Republican ones, the undeniable contrast in the staff members is indeed striking - it were as if Souza were photographing an entirely different country's presidential palace. What strikes the initially-impartial Souza the most is Obama's quintessential sense of empathy, which is even more obvious compared with the Trump administration's spurious disregard for even the most basic semblances of human compassion; Souza doesn't need to resort to cheap tricks to accentuate this - his pictures alone sans commentary more than get the job done. The director Dawn Porter and her editor Jessica Congdon dexterously weave this together with agility, though I admit I was hungry for some of the visual sophistication and snap the award-winning documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) could've maybe brought to the party. The liberal news network MSNBC has co-produced "The Way I See It," so don't go into it expecting much in the way of objectivity. Still, it's undeniably persuasive stuff, with Souza progressing from a bystander to a committed liberal activist using the social-media platform Instagram to contrast Trump's multitude of misleading statements to relevant photos of Obama with stinging captions. (These have been collated into Souza's recent best seller Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents, and when Souza is asked at a book signing if there's a single Trump quote that can't be suitably contrasted he amusingly replies, "Not really.") This admirable piece of work certainly couldn't come at a better time in an age of a puerile president who's left no sexist, racist or xenophobic stone unturned, yet Souza's moral purity and wit keep it from being entirely didactic. It's a political polemic chock-full of deep-seated humility much like the president he proudly covered for almost a decade, and one-hundred-and-two minutes of undiluted pleasure.

Some of Souza's photos are worth more than a thousand words.

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originally posted: 09/25/20 09:09:02
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  18-Sep-2020 (PG-13)



Directed by
  Dawn Porter

Written by

  Pete Souza

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