Toronto 2020: The Way I See It

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 goes behind the scenes through White House photographer Pete Souza’s eyes during the Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama administrations.

How many people can say they worked at the White House for both Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.  Not many, I would assume.  However, Pete Souza could very well be the only one.  Souza comments in the film that if you thought he would work for both the most iconic Republican and Democratic presidents in recent years, he would have said you were crazy.

Pete Souza is a behind the scenes guy.  A photojournalist might not always make a worthy documentary subject.  However, the key thing here is his former job as a White House photographer.  Here is a man who was there for some of the major moments in history.  But when he wasn’t doing that, he was capturing behind-the-scenes life.  Souza was there in 1987 when Ronald Reagan delivered a historic speech.  He was also in the room with eyes on the Obama administration on the night that Osama bin Laden was killed.  At times, the film feels like a never-ending montage of photos with Souza providing commentary.  I don’t mind because it’s a reminder that Americans can do the right thing an elect a leader with principles.  A leader with compassion and empathy.  That’s something sorely lacking in the White House right now.

A still from The Situation Room in The Way I See It
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)

This documentary is one that brings back a lot of nostalgia.  How could it not?  We’re taking a trip back in time to the Obama White House–an administration that is sorely missed.  Documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter captures Souza talking in front of a Madiscon, Wisc. audience.  Souza not only has their attention but he’s able to elicit laughter in his commentary.

President Obama led a pretty active life during his presidency.  One that led Souza to comment that following him is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose because it never stops.  There was another moment where Obama was playing a one-on-one basketball game with Reggie Love.  After the game, he went over to Souza to make sure he got a photo of a block.  Obama requested it be blown up into a jumbo and have Reggie sign it.

As a photojournalist, Souza knows he shouldn’t be political.  He also knows it means never working as a photojournalist again.  However, he believes he has a responsibility to speak out because of the current occupant’s behavior. This is why he continually posts photos from the Obama administration on his Instagram and throws shade in the captions.  Through these actions, he is able to compare and contrast the two.  It’s the right thing to do.

It’s only towards the end of the film when you realize that it wasn’t immune to the Covid-19 pandemic.  We especially see this in the montage of photos at the end including the recent Black Lives Matter protests.  It also reminds us just how much power there is in a still image.  A picture speaks a thousand words and in this film, it is no different.

The Way I See It places Pete Souza front and center while reminding us of the important matters at hand.  The film reminds us that we can have dignity, compassion, and empathy in the White House.

DIRECTOR:  Dawn Porter
FEATURING:  Pete Souza

The Way I See It holds its world premiere during the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival in the Planet Africa 25 program. Focus Features will release The Way I See It in theaters September 18th, 2020. The Way I See It premieres on MSNBC October 9th, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.