Our Nixon director Penny Lane and co-producer Brian Frye. Photo: Lansia Wann
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On our final episode of the Daily Buzz from SXSW, director Penny Lane and co-producer Brian Frye joined Eugene Hernandez in Austin's Stateside Theater to discuss their found-footage documentary Our Nixon.
The film, which will close the 42nd New Directors/New Films festival on April 31, is made up primarily of Super 8 footage shot by three of Richard Nixon's aides, Dwight Chapin, H.R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman. The footage was long unavailable to the public due to the Watergate investigation. Upon learning that the material could finally be accessed, Lane and Frye decided to take a risk and pay to see it, even though they weren't sure what would come of it.
“We figured there'd be a film,” said Lane, adding that they weren't sure in advance what the film would be about. What they were after, though, was answers to some fundamental questions: “How did they get to a place where they thought it was okay to commit the crimes they committed. How did they get to that point?”
The answer is not simple, and Our Nixon looks for it by employing a mixture of material. About 60% of the film is the original Super 8 footage, while the rest is made up of interviews with the three subjects—all of whom went to prison for Watergate and two out of three of whom are now deceased—news clips, and the infamous White House audio tapes.
“It goes back and forth between history being lived in the present tense and history being reflected upon in retrospect,” explained Lane. When asked about her reaction to watching the archival footage, she responded: “What surprised me the most was how much I liked them.”
Lane and Frye both spoke to the inherent irony in watching the footage knowing what was to come for Chapin, Haldeman, and Ehrlichmann, whom the filmmakers refer to as “the original oversharers.” They were also quick to point out how unique a situation access to this footage is.
“This is the kind of material that will never exist again, because no president after Nixon would ever have allowed this kind of documentation of his or her administration to happen,” marvelled Frye. “At the time… the justified assumption was that the material all belonged to the president, that it was his personal property. Congress passed a law afterward that… anything produced by the White House was the property of the American people.”
Lane agreed and also pointed out that the very fact that it was footage of Nixon made it inherently more interesting: “It was the end of an era. The Nixon presidency was the end and the beginning of many things—a big turning point.”
Learn more about the making of this fascinating documentary in our final Daily Buzz podcast from SXSW and make sure to catch Our Nixon when it closes New Directors/New Films on March 31 in NYC. In this episode, you'll also hear from Yen Tan about his gay drama Pit Stop, plus an Interactive-focused Hot Topics roundtable and a Music-focused Festival Veterans segment.
Mike Fabbri, prollie
Lori Cheek, Cheek'd
Adam Mordecai, Upworthy
Our Nixon (Penny Lane & Brian Frye)
Pit Stop (Yen Tan)
Sam Kling, peermusic
Film Society's Daily Buzz with Eugene Hernandez would like to give special thanks to KUT 90.5FM, Stateside Theatre/Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, Cloud Electronics, Whole Foods, Alamo Drafthouse/BadAss Digest and SXSW. Green Room snacks provided by Beanitos, KIND snacks, and Good Pops.
The Daily Buzz Team at SXSW:
Eugene Hernandez: Host/Producer
Irene Cho: Producer
Lansia Wann: Associate Producer
Matt Young: Assistant Producer, Sound Engineer & Editor
Claire Chen: Assistant Producer-Social Media/Marketing
Nicholas Kemp: Digital Content Coordinator