Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill mine the past for contemporary relevance and come up trumps in THE REAGAN SHOW, a film about a prolific actor’s defining role: Leader of the Free World. It uses the Reagan administration’s internal documentation to capture the spectacle of American might at its acme, exploring the relationship between the media and those in power as they participate in the collaborative act of image making. Told entirely through a largely unseen trove of archival footage, the film captures the pageantry, pathos, and charisma that followed the original performer/president from Hollywood to the nation’s capital.
Montclair Film Festival talked to co-director Sierra Pettengill about her engaging film.
How do you describe THE REAGAN SHOW in your own words?
Sierra: THE REAGAN SHOW is an all-archival documentary that presents the pageantry, absurdity, and charisma of a prolific actor’s defining role: Leader of the Free World. Told solely through 1980s network news and videotapes created by the Reagan administration itself, the film explores Reagan’s made-for-TV approach to politics as he faced down the United States’ greatest rival.
What made you want to tell this particular story?
Sierra: Over the decades, Reagan has persisted as a near-mythological force in American political culture—on both sides of the aisle—and I’ve long been fascinated by his administration and how it’s affected the nation. I am really interested in the stories that America tells itself about who it is and the ways that those stories are propagated, reinforced, and repeated.
THE REAGAN SHOW provided me with the opportunity to reckon with these questions through the language of the footage, the language of the media itself—and at a crucial historical moment. As someone who often works with archival materials, I am always pushing to consider historical materials within the context under which they were produced. That was a major goal for me here; rather than applying the tapes to a pre-determined story or cherry-picking it for illustrative purposes, we sat in the tapes, both news and the Reagan-authored WHTV tapes, and reckoned with it as a body of footage—shot for specific purposes and told from very specific set of points of view. It was important to me that we remain within the archival record, and resist the lure of outside voices from the present day.
What you hope MFF audiences will take away from THE REAGAN SHOW?
Sierra: Looking at Reagan through the prism of performance feels like the best way to understand both the person and the policies he pursued, as well as the role of “narrative” itself. We want this self-reflective approach to invite viewers to look closely at — and question — the tools employed in politics and the ways that we, as the citizen-audience, receive information. It’s not only where we go, in terms of policy, but how we get there.
As a seasoned documentarian, do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Sierra: Film editors are a crucial creative force and their role should not be undervalued! This film—where we managed over 1000 hour of footage—in particular is a real testament to that.
What does it mean to you to be screening your film at MFF17?
Sierra: The Montclair Film Festival has a reputation amongst filmmakers as one of the best and most gratifying festivals around; I’ve been impatient for years to have a reason to come and am thrilled and honored to be invited withTHE REAGAN SHOW.
Directors Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill, Associate Producer Daniel Garber, and writer Josh Alexander will attend the following screenings.
May 6, 2:00pm and May 7, 5:00pm, both at the Bellevue Cinemas. BUY TICKETS
Interview by MFF Blogger Karen Haas