During her time at the White House as First and Second Lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson recorded an audio diary chronicling all of the major events that happened. Everything from John F. Kennedy’s assassination, to her husband President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act and her own personal endeavours including her Beautification Campaign and environmental efforts. Lady Bird Johnson was a staunch supporter of her husband and LBJ often leaned on her for her wisdom and the recordings reflect their strong bond.
Directed by Dawn Porter, The Lady Bird Diaries is based on the ABC podcast In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson and Julia Sweig’s book Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding In Plain Sight. The approach to this documentary is very simple. There are no interviews or commentary, just Lady Bird’s audio recordings matched with archival footage and illustrations. There are a couple interjections, including some insight from a longtime personal assistant. But otherwise this is Lady Bird telling us her stories.
Porter do a great job crafting a collection of highlights which range from major historical events to Lady Bird’s personal triumphs and struggles. I quite enjoyed hearing stories and watching footage of the LBJ family personal life including Lucy and Lynda’s weddings and the births of their children. LBJ himself looked so happy being a grandfather. While the documentary is inherently biased because it is coming from just one perspective, I appreciate that it didn’t shy away from some heavy subject matter like the Vietnam War and a confrontation with Eartha Kitt at a White House luncheon.
The intention with this documentary is clear. Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy should be recognized and the person to bring her back into the spotlight is Lady Bird herself.
The Lady Bird Diaries had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will premiere on Hulu at a future date.
Director Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble) delivers again with another political documentary wrought with emotion. Inspired by the best-selling book, The Way I See It tells the story of Pete Souza, former photographer for the Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama administrations.
On that fateful day in January 2017 when Donald Trump was sworn in as president and Obama left the White House, Souza sensed that the country had lost something substantial. Having spent four years photographing Obama in moments both historic and intimate, Souza thought he was ready to retire. But he just couldn’t keep quiet as he saw the rapidly changing political climate. He started an Instagram account to share some of his photos and it quickly turned into his form of resistance.
In an age when we are exposed to a constant stream of video content, we forget how powerful a still photograph can be. Souza’s photographs capture a mood, an emotion and offer insight and context. Fleeting moments frozen in time. With his Instagram, Souza delivers biting political commentary with posts that are perfectly timed to respond to whatever is happening in the news. He uses the past throw shade at the present.
The Way I See It may be the most important documentary you’ll see this year. It is heartbreaking and emotional in its nostalgia of an era that is quickly slipping away from our collective memory. Porter offers us not only a biography of a photographer but also of his most captivating subject: Barack Obama. While there is also attention paid to Souza’s work in the Reagan administration, this film is more pointedly political and will appeal more to viewers with liberal points of view rather than conservative ones. Souza’s story will awaken your empathy, no matter how dormant, and will empower you to get out and VOTE.
“The vote is still the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool we have in a democratic society and we must use it.”
We live in turbulent times and it’s difficult to stay optimistic when the future looks grim. One man in particular has been able to sustain a sense of hope and determination that things will change for the better. Over the course of nearly 60 years of public service, this man has paved the way forward with his philosophy for non-violent protest and his own indestructible resolve for doing good. That man is Civil Rights leader and U.S. Representative for Georgia John Lewis. And he has one piece of advice for you: “get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Directed by Dawn Porter, John Lewis: Good Trouble chronicles the life and political career of an extraordinary man. Something that is key to making a good documentary is access. In this film there is seemingly unfettered access to John Lewis himself. We also hear from his brothers and sisters, his staff and many big names in politics. Talking heads include Elijah Cummings (to whom the film is dedicated), Hillary and Bill Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Nancy Pelosi, Eric Holder and others. The film conveys a sense of gratitude and appreciation for John Lewis’ work and we hear this through the words of politicians and every day people who approached Lewis to offer words of gratitude and appreciation. At the center of it all is Lewis who guides the viewer through his life’s journey.
Porter’s documentary covers the broad spectrum of Lewis’ career in civil service and politics. Lewis got an early start in the Civil Rights Movement when he wrote a letter to Martin Luther King Jr. at the age of 17. Soon he was a member of the Freedom Riders and was one of the key figures protesting on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. He was arrested 45 times, often severely beaten by aggressors. Lewis’s transition to politics was a natural one. He studied non-violence as a philosophy and has been a staunch believer in that form of protest ever since. He’s been a member of Congress since 1987 and as the film so aptly demonstrates, Lewis is still as active in politics as when he first started.
“John Lewis has consistently delivered a message of doing your best, being honorable, and respecting others for the past 65+ years. I think it’s really needed at this particular moment in history.”
John Lewis: Good Trouble serves as a much needed call-to-action during troubling times.
John Lewis: Good Trouble is available in virtual cinemas and on demand today. Visit Magnolia Pictures’ website for more information.