Throughout Richard Nixon's presidency, three of his top White House aides obsessively documented their experiences with Super 8 home movie cameras. Young, idealistic and dedicated, they had no idea that a few years later they'd all be in prison. This unique and personal visual record, created by H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin, was seized by the FBI during the Watergate investigation, then filed away and forgotten for almost 40 years.
OUR NIXON is an all-archival documentary presenting those home movies for the first time, along with other rare footage, creating an intimate and complex portrait of the Nixon presidency as never seen before.
OUR NIXON begins in 1969. While many young people are demonstrating or dropping out, we meet three squares who have just started new jobs at the White House. Their loss of innocence and their betrayal by the President is the story of OUR NIXON. Their story sheds new light on larger historical themes at a key moment in American history when the age of Aquarius gave way to the age of Nixon.
Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Chapin filmed over 500 reels of home movies from 1969 to 1973, capturing the prosaic and the profound. They filmed big events: the Apollo moon landing, historic anti-war protests, the Republican National Convention, Tricia Nixon's White House wedding and Nixon's world-changing trip to China. They filmed world leaders and celebrities: Nicolae Ceausescu, Chou Enlai, Barbara Walters. But they also filmed each other and everyday life: Ehrlichman eating dinner off a tray on Air Force One, Chapin's wife and kids meeting the Easter Bunny on the White House lawn, Haldeman riding a bicycle at Camp David. Ehrlichman was especially fond of filming hummingbirds. They filmed to have something to show their grandchildren. They filmed because they thought that Nixon's presidency would change the world forever. The tragedy is that they were right.
OUR NIXON is a uniquely constructed film in that it is composed entirely of archival material, most of it rarely or never seen. The Super 8 home movies are at center stage, but they are contextualized, complicated and challenged by a wide spectrum of other archival media. The three main characters Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Chapin - come to life through clips taken from dozens of oral histories, television interviews and other public appearances. These testimonies describe their personal experiences of the events depicted in the film, from Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers to the reasons behind the taping system, from Nixon's triumphant trip to China and 1972 landslide to the panoply of sordid events later summarized by the single word "Watergate." Their views, descriptions of events and opinions on their significance are often at odds with those expressed by the period news media in OUR NIXON - voiced by the likes of Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite, Barbara Walters, Mike Wallace, Phil Donahue and Daniel Schorr.
And then there are of course Nixon's White House Tapes. The tapes are funny, mystifying, creepy and sad. They are - perhaps more than anything else - humanizing. They offer a view the most shockingly (often hilariously) unedited President we are likely to ever experience. Many documentaries have used tiny snippets of the White House Tapes to illustrate this or that point, and always only in relation to Watergate. Rather than recycling those same excerpts we've all heard before, OUR NIXON presents tapes that come from other parts of the almost 4000 hour archive, using longer excerpts of conversations that offer a nuanced and human portrait of the Nixon White House, a portrait shocking both in its casual criminality and its heartbreaking naiveté. This sort of juxtaposition is at the heart of the structure of the film, leaving the viewer to sift through the contradictory fragments of history, in their own way, to reach their own conclusions.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Director and Co-Producer Penny Lane has been making award-winning documentaries and essay films since 2002. Her films have screened at Rotterdam, AFI FEST, The Media That Matters Film Festival, Rooftop Films, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, MoMA's Documentary Fortnight and many other venues. She has been awarded grants from Cinereach, TFI Documentary Fund, LEF Foundation, NYSCA, Experimental Television Center, IFP and the Puffin Foundation. OUR NIXON is her first feature documentary, for which she was awarded several grants and a residency at Yaddo. She is a Creative Capital grantee and was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film" in 2012.
Co-Producer Brian L. Frye is a filmmaker, writer, and professor of law. His films explore relationships between history, society, and cinema through archival and amateur images. Brian's films have been shown by The Whitney Museum, New York Film Festival, Pacific Film Archive, New York Underground Film Festival, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Warhol Museum, Media City and Images Festival. His films are in the permanent collection of The Whitney Museum. His writing on film has appeared in October, The New Republic, Film Comment and the Village Voice. A Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky., his legal scholarship concerns interactions between the law and the arts, focusing on issues relating to nonprofit organizations and intellectual property. Brian is a Creative Capital grantee and was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film" in 2012.
In an already-crowded field of Nixonia, Lane and Frye's film... stands out for its total commitment to primary sources not already mined for small drops." -Vadim Rizov, Filmmaker Magazine, Summer 2012
As the footage unspools, I want to hold the moment and look closely at the faces, the expressions, and the material detailsof the main character, the supporting cast, and the "extras," which is to say, those in the cheering crowds. -Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Culled from obscure home movies shot largely by Haldeman, Ehrlichman and special assistant Dwight Chapin, fills a historical gap, proving that even notorious political figures goof off, unwind and take in the sights. -Paul Larocco, Newsday Magazine
It shows a confident man at the height of his power, a side of Nixon that is rarely explored. But at the same time the film carries an ominous undertone; viewers know the car crash ending, but the stars of the film don't, and it never comes. -Daniel Bush, Brooklyn Downtown Star
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