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TIFF 2020: The Way I See It Review

The Way I See It profiles former White House chief photographer Pete Souza. Souza has the unique distinction of working for the most iconic Republican (Ronald Reagan) and Democratic (Barack Obama) presidents of the last 40 years.

Despite working in America’s political epicentre, Souza remained apolitical. But something changed in 2016 (any guess what?) and he couldn’t keep silent any longer. Today the man is a bonafide celebrity, using his photography skills to speak truth to power.

Souza developed a massive social media following by trolling the current United States President. He captions classy pictures of Obama while commenting on Trump’s petulant behaviour to highlight the current President’s many inadequacies.

At first, Souza’s snarky posts carried an air of levity, finding humour in the daily nonsense unfolding in the White House. But as time went on, the sick burns stopped being funny, and Souza’s message took on a sober tone. The President may be a joke, but his deeds are no laughing matter. And with that realization, Souza took on the mantle of social activist.

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Documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble) tells an ambitious story that often swells with emotion. At times, the doc’s perspective is almost too expansive. The narrative shifts between Souza and Obama’s lives while also highlighting past and present presidential administrations. I didn’t mind the doc’s diffuse nature, even though I wanted to know more about every subject where Porter focuses her attention. The trade-off is that we never go super deep into any one topic.

The Way I See It tracks like a paean to Obama’s presidency. So for a vast swath of the population, this doc is either a righteous love-letter or liberal propaganda. Those who go into the film open-minded will find two compelling stories: a multi-faceted look at Barack Obama as a husband, father, and president, and the evolution of Souza’s political voice. The beauty of the film is the slow reveal of how the two are inextricably linked.

It’s been said that journalism is the first draft of history. As the White House’s chief photographer, Souza was on-call 24-7 through Obama’s entire presidency. And he amassed tens of thousands of photographs cataloguing the administration. The doc features hundreds of Souza’s stunning photos, capturing Obama at work and off the clock. Some of the film’s most powerful images show Obama goofing around, being a dad, or making small-talk with a child before taking the podium.

I got choked up more than once watching Obama interact with the public. Seeing so many awe-struck children marvel at their idol takes me back to a time I miss dearly. The film is full of touching instances that reflect Obama’s humanity.

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One telling moment shows this cool cat President clearly rattled before addressing the media. He puffs out his cheeks, steps in front of the camera, and quietly breaks into tears. Obama was speaking to the press about the Sandy Hook shooting, an incident where a mass shooter killed young elementary students and school staff. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to put yourself in the President’s head— he’s relating to the tragedy as a father. The things I would give to see that same degree of compassion from any of the people currently in charge.

If anyone should be over the legend of Obama, it’s Souza—a guy who spent 8 years chronicling the president’s day-to-day affairs. But working with Obama and witnessing his selflessness first-hand clearly left an impression. That’s why Souza couldn’t keep quiet when Trump transformed the presidency into a sleazy reality show. No longer silent, Souza travels the globe on a speaking tour promoting his book, Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents.

By chronicling the evolution of Souza’s wokeness, The Way I See It puts a face to the presidency’s power to inspire and transform. It’s one thing to believe in Hope & Change; it’s another to see it in action.

TIFF 2020 RUNS SEPT. 10-19, 2020. Click here for more TIFF coverage.

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