On the heels of last year’s sensation Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Focus Features is set to produce an upcoming documentary about former Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza. Sundance Special Jury Prize and Peabody Award-winning director Dawn Porter (Gideon’s Army, Bobby Kennedy for President, and the upcoming film Good Trouble about Congressman John Lewis) will direct and produce the film about the prolific and outspoken photojournalist. Academy Award®, BAFTA® and Emmy Award® winning producer Evan Hayes (Free Solo) will produce under his ACE Content banner alongside Academy Award®-nominee and Emmy Award®-winner Laura Dern and her Jaywalker Pictures partner Jayme Lemons, in association with Platform One Media.
As Chief Official White House Photographer, Pete Souza spent more time alongside President Barack Obama than almost anyone else, and his years photographing Presidents Obama and Reagan gave him an intimate behind-the-scenes view of the unique gravity of the Office and the tremendous responsibility that comes with it. And as the official White House photographer for two administrations – both Democratic and Republican – Souza had unprecedented access to Presidencies on both sides of the political spectrum which has given him a unique vantage point on our current political landscape. This view provided Souza with insights not related to policy or politics, but instead relating to the office of the Presidency more broadly, forcing him to confront challenging questions: What is leadership? What does it mean to be “Presidential?” American? Empathetic? A leader of a global superpower?
The film will track Souza’s journey from a man with top secret clearance and total access to the President, whose job description meant he was required to be invisible, to a man who has turned his focus on the present day and who uses his art as commentary to help us understand where we are now as a country and what we might be missing.
Souza’s past published works of photographs, Obama: An Intimate Portrait, and Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents both debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller lists. He is a professor emeritus at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication and was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 2001 as part of the Chicago Tribune staff.
“For eight years during the Obama presidency, I was inside the room where it happened. My job was to visually document his Presidency, making more than 1.9 million photographs for the historical record. But I also strived to capture the fleeting moments of President Obama’s life to show what he was like as a human being,” said Peter Souza. “On January 20, 2017, I left the White House and resumed my most important role as life–citizen. And it’s as citizen that I have chosen to speak out, using my photographs as commentary of where we were and how that contrasts with where we are today.”
Filmmaker Dawn Porter said, “Pete Souza is the voice we need now. His unprecedented access to the office of the President is a sober reflection on the importance of American leadership. I’ve spent my career highlighting heroic voices, and I could not be more thrilled to be working with Evan, Laura, Jayme and Focus Features to tell Pete's heroic story. Their commitment to this story reflects a dedication to honor as well as art and I am so grateful to be working with this team.”
Producer Evan Hayes commented, “If you’re a fan of Hamilton, you’ll know that you want to be in the room where it happened, and as an Official White House Photographer Pete Souza was in that room with two Presidents from opposite ends of the political spectrum. His observations about the Office of the Presidency have resonated with me and millions of others in powerful & unexpected ways and I’m thrilled to partner with Dawn Porter & Focus, and also my very good friends Laura & Jayme, to bring Pete’s story, and his photography, to life.”
Producers Laura Dern and Jayme Lemons said, “Pete Souza is an American treasure. Jayme and I couldn’t be more excited to partner with Evan Hayes, along with the brilliant team at Focus Features, to bring to the screen his remarkable story, images, and expression of empathy and compassion through his indelible work chronicling two presidents.”
Focus Features will distribute the documentary domestically, and Universal Pictures International will handle foreign distribution.