Filmmaker uses Nixon aides’ home movies to create the layered documentary, ‘Our Nixon’

Richard NixonHolding a screening at the Watergate might indicate that the forthcoming documentary, “Our Nixon,” was just another scandal flick, but filmmaker Penny Lane tried to make that the least of it.

Instead, she and producer Brian Frye showed another side of President Nixon’s “henchmen”–Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin–using the aides’ own Super 8 home movies.

Lane, who was in Washington Thursday night to discuss the doc with the Atlantic’s Steve Clemons, explained that a friend of Frye’s tipped them off to the existence of the films more than a decade ago. The reels and reels of silent footage had been confiscated by the FBI during the Watergate investigation and tucked away in the National Archives.

“I’m surprised that no one ever [heard of them],” said Lane. “It was just so exciting, these were silent home movies.”

Lane layered the ameteur films with the White House Nixon tapes and music from the era. While Watergate and the Vietnam War protests were discussed, so were happier events, like the aides goofing around at the White House Easter Egg Roll or accompanying the president on his trip to China. The effect makes the aides more human than henchmen.

“It certainly complicated the kind of stereotypical, black and white, version of history that I had grown up with,” Lane said. “When you combined it with the dramatic irony inherent in the film–where you know the end of the story and they don’t–sometimes that’s funny and sometimes that’s just heartbreakingly sad.”

Lane said as she spent more time with the footage the more she grew to like the characters, all of whom served time for their Watergate dealings.

“I cared about them alot,” Lane said. “I felt like John Ehrlichman was a very sensitive, artistic, interesting, intellectual person who had been flattened into this one photograph of him with his lower lip sticking out during the Watergate hearings and I just thought, ‘what a disservice to a life.’”

Lane certainly wasn’t a Nixon scholar before making the film. “I was like, ‘why did they shoot so much in China?’ Seriously. I have to out myself,” she said to laughs “Brian had to be like, ‘that was a big deal.’” And after, she said she still didn’t have a strong opinion on the scandal. “I just think it’s a tragedy, no question, and you can explore the human dimension of it in a way that hadn’t been done.”

“Our Nixon” opens in major markets starting August 30.

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