Film Reviews

TIFF 2020: The Way I See It Review

Obama’s photographer has changed from an “historian with a camera” to Trump’s nightmare, “The King of Shade”

Courtesy of TIFF


The Way I See It
(USA, 102 min.)
Dir. Dawn Porter

Any cinema verité director or documentary photographer knows that you have to learn how to be a fly on the wall to achieve truthful images. When the subject being shot doesn’t realize that a photographer is ready to pounce, that’s when a candid, often beautiful likeness appears.

Pete Souza, the protagonist of The Way I See It, surely practiced his craft that way for 40 years. The White House photographer for Ronald Reagan in the Eighties and Barack Obama during his entire eight years as President, he learned how to be “the guy who disappears” while taking shots of each President during their terms in office.

But after Obama’s regime ended and Trump became the President, Souza surprised everyone, including himself. Suddenly, the man who “expressed no opinions” even to his wife Patti, became someone who is “full of opinions.” Reversing gears, Souza who always regarded himself as an “historian with a camera” became known as “The King of Shade,” dishing the dirt about Trump on Instagram in a devastating series of shots which compare the decent, loving Obama with the sneering Orange man who is besmirching the Oval Office these days.

Veteran producer and director Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble) has made a film with an agenda. Clearly, she likes the affable and quite emotional Souza but I suspect that she never would have made a biopic about him if the presidential elections weren’t coming up. The Way I See It has festival cred thanks to its spot at TIFF, and it will get a brief film release but the main audience for this doc will be on MSNBC, where it’s set to be broadcast on October 16. That’s great placement because Souza makes a convincing case for Obama’s dignity and humanity through such brilliant photographs as “The Situation Room,” which depicted Obama, Biden and Hilary Clinton and military high commanders staring at a screen, waiting to find out the fate of bin Laden and “Hair Like Mine” where a Black child patted the President’s head to find out if they truly share the same type of hair.

Souza comes off as an unpretentious person, who has become so angered by Trump that he knew he must share his photos and personal encounters with Obama with the citizens of the U.S. (and the world). One can only hope that this doc may impel people to vote in the upcoming election. The Way I See It isn’t a typical festival doc, replete with fine aesthetic considerations, but that’s fine. Dawn Porter has made a doc of compelling immediacy and power.

The Way I See It premiered at TIFF 2020.

Visit the POV TIFF Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.