Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi has made 14 documentaries, none more intimate, laborious or destabilizing than her last. The subject is his mother, Nancy Pelosi.
The young Pelosi, 52, filmed her family raised in San Francisco before her mother became a Democratic congresswoman and captured her rise (twice) to Speaker of the House, as well as many other political moments. “She invites the family to everything – every state in the union, every time she takes the oath,” said her daughter, the youngest of five children.
She also saw her mother, now 82, become the target of right-wing criticism. “Fox News made my last name a swearword years ago,” Alexandra Pelosi said.
She and one of her sons were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as the speaker was transported from his office to a safe location amid the attack. The footage the filmmaker shot that day was later shared with the House committee investigating the events, and it provides a dramatic crowning moment to the documentary “Pelosi in the House,” which will air on HBO at from Tuesday. Drawn from more than 800 hours of footage collected over decades, it portrays Nancy Pelosi, who last month announced she would be stepping down as a public speaker, as a forceful and dogged politician.
As with other Alexandra Pelosi documentaries, including several that have followed Republican leaders and Trump voters, this one was shot truthfully and, Pelosi stressed, told only from her point of view at the time. .
The film was largely complete before the October home assault on Paul Pelosi, Alexandra’s father, who she said sent her spiraling. On Thanksgiving, her mother brought in a priest to lead a prayer service at the house. “Everyone in my family really felt the priest helping them heal,” Alexandra said. “But I was looking out the window [security officers] with their big guns, and I was just praying they wouldn’t leave now that she’s not talking.
We spoke one afternoon while she was en route from her New York home to Washington to attend a state dinner. Her mother, whose surname is Mimi, had called earlier to offer some fashion advice – as if, her daughter joked, she didn’t have enough on her plate. “She still has to make sure I’m dressed appropriately.”
The two are quite different, said Alexandra, who also calls her mother by her full name: “She’s like a silver-lined person and I’m a black-cloud person.” Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.
How is your father ?
He is improving every day. But I don’t know how you’re recovering from everything that happened after the attack. Getting hurt is one thing, but becoming the punchline for, you know, narcissists on Twitter who are chasing clicks and spreading conspiracy theories about her — I think that’ll probably hurt for a while. The idea that adults like the Governor of Virginia and members of Congress were making jokes at his expense, that people were using him as a political footballer, that an 82-year-old man was being mugged in his home, left unconscious in a pool of his own blood, that’s what’s traumatic. [The Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin, later apologized.]
Understanding the events of January 6
A big part of your career has been talking to people politically different from your family. You have always maintained that there are points of connection there. What do you think now?
The attack on my father really destroyed my faith in humanity. I have lots of friends who showed up in Washington on Jan. 6 — I know people who stormed the Capitol that day. I’m not ready to hug them yet. I was at the Capitol with my 16 year old son who kept asking me: why do all these people hate Mimi? I didn’t get a good answer. Because they don’t like his politics? My kids have phones, they see the press talking about the Oath Keepers saying they wanted to hang Nancy Pelosi from a lamppost.
I’m nobody and I need to have security now, because people don’t like the things my mom did in her public life.
On January 6, as you’re pushed through a tunnel to a bunker, you know enough as a filmmaker not to stop rolling. But what was going through your mind?
The capitol police officer kept pushing my son away because he wasn’t sure if they [the rioters] were going to gas the tunnel. Or if they came rushing towards us. There has been real panic: are we just running into our own trap?
As a documentary filmmaker, of course, I wanted to stay in the background. But when we got back to the Capitol that night, I realized it was good that I was going with my mom because you saw [the destruction].
Had you been concerned about the violence before this afternoon?
I’ve done so many of these movies, road trips across America, and met so many decent people. I’ve stayed with them, I’ve been to their barbecues. I have never been afraid. And I never thought that [anyone was] come and hang Nancy Pelosi from a lamppost.
I brought my children; I thought it was a good civics lesson for them. Everyone inside was focused on the day’s events. And my son kept looking out the window and saying, what if they storm the Capitol?
I just don’t know how we ended up here. I don’t know what you call that a democracy. If this is the price people have to pay if they want to run for public office, who would run? The threats have not ceased.
You filmed your mom in the halls of Congress and at home doing laundry on a call with Mike Pence. But you’re not asking him to do a full interview. Why not?
Nancy Pelosi is never going to sit on the couch and open up for you. If you want to learn something from her, just watch her work. I spent Covid filming Nancy Pelosi on the phone screaming at [former Treasury Secretary] Steve Mnuchin. She wouldn’t call it yelling – she would call it negotiating.
Has she seen the movie?
I tried to show him. But she’s the toughest editor. He is not someone who would collaborate on an artistic project.
This is not an authorized documentary. She did not sign a receipt. I don’t know thinks she’s going to sue her daughter, but she’s not going to be happy. I’m sure she’ll call me as soon as she sees him – hubby [the Dutch journalist Michiel Vos] and I have a game going on, how many things she’s going to have on her list. I guess a dozen “you shouldn’t have included this” and a list of a dozen things [to use] In place.
How long have you been filming your mother?
Still. It all started with a disposable camera that I received for Christmas when I was little. I became the family paparazzi. Taking pictures gave me something to do – boring political functions. And then, as she moved into leadership, I realized there was a really interesting distinction between what was happening in the room where it happened and how it was presented.
In the film, we see her very much as a matriarch — you show her preparing to announce Trump’s first impeachment, for example, while arranging a birthday card for a granddaughter. Why did you include these details?
She has five very different children and nine very different grandchildren. We all rely on her to be there for us. She was at the birth of all her grandchildren, no matter what in the world. When my children were born, I think she even directed the doctors.
She still has to show up for all the birthday parties, do all the usual grandma stuff. We don’t just give her a pass because she has a day job. This is the backward part of his work.
Did you learn anything about her by watching the film?
She believes that what they are doing in this Capitol is the work of God. His father served there. She served there for 35 years. She regards the Capitol as the temple of democracy – a sacred place, more so than the Vatican, probably. January 6 was a scar on his soul.
She has a lot of Republican friends – you don’t see that in the public sphere. She didn’t like the war in Iraq, but I thought she and W. [George W. Bush] should have had a buddy movie – they got along like peaches and cream.
She is still proud of everything she has done. You see her on TV as this kind of perma-grin, finely haired lady. She doesn’t come home, takes her pearls off, and goesssips about Mitch McConnell. She’s still a lady; there is no switch. It doesn’t matter if she’s a base member or the speaker. She’s always going to walk into this Capitol on her heels and try to pay the bills. And she thinks it’s noble.
It’s up to us to debate whether we believe that.