The four-hour documentary “Hillary” — which premieres Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival — “did not start out as the film it ended up being,” said the woman who’s the subject of the film.
“It really started out as maybe a campaign documentary, because we had about 1,700 hours of behind-the-scenes footage — some of which is in the movie,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But filmmaker Nanette Burstein pitched the idea of a documentary that was about more than Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 election. “She said, ‘Look, this is a bigger story. It needs to be told. It’s part of the arc of women’s history, advancement, choices that are made,’” Clinton said.
“I’m not running for anything. I’m not in office. So I said, ‘Sure, why don’t we give it a try?’ And off we went.”
The 4-hour, 13-minute documentary will screen in its entirety on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Ray Theatre in Park City; Clinton and Burstein will do a Q&A afterward. It screens again on on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. (without the Q&A) at the Rose Wagner Center in Salt Lake City. And it begins streaming on Hulu on March 6.
It’s a largely flattering portrait, but Burstein does address Clinton’s marriage to former President Bill Clinton and his involvement with Monica Lewinsky; her failed presidential campaign; and how she became “kind of a Rorschach test for women and women’s roles as soon as I burst onto the public scene when Bill was running for president.”
“I’d lived more than 40 years before that, and I had no real understanding of what it meant to be thrust into this highest, brightest platform and try to live your life and kind of go along with what you’d always done.”
She didn’t expect the “extraordinary backlash” when her husband asked her to lead his administration’s efforts to create universal healthcare “because I had done similar things in Arkansas on education. ... And there’s a scene in the movie, which I had forgotten until Nanette dug it up, of me being burned in effigy for wanting health care.”
Clinton sat for more than 35 hours of interviews with Burstein. Nothing was off limits, and she had no editorial control over the documentary. The filmmaker said she is grateful for “how willing Secretary Clinton was to share her story on such an honest, human level, and give me the time and the trust. Not be worried about how I was going to put this together.”
“When you actually get to know her and really understand the intimate moments of her life ... you realize how misguided we can be in the way that we understand history and media.”
Clinton made suggestions for people Burstein might want to interview, but Burstein decided who to talk to and who she would include in the film. The list includes Clinton’s husband; her daughter, Chelsea Clinton; a long list of friends and aides; and just one Republican opponent — former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) — in large part because, according to Burstein, most Republicans declined to be interviewed.
Clinton said that, while doing the interviews, it was “humbling” to recognize that “I have to bear a lot of the responsibility” for how she has been “mischaracterized and misperceived.”
“I certainly didn’t do a good enough job to break through a lot of the perceptions that were out there,” she said, ignoring friends and advisers who said she needed fight back. “I would just kind of blow it off, brush it off, and not think about it.”
But during the course of the “intense” interviews for the documentary — “I mean, 35 hours is a lot of time to spend with somebody” — she realized “perhaps I could have and should have found ways to better present myself or deal with some of the misperceptions were out there.”
But she’s still unsure how. “That’s a very good question. I don’t know.”
Clinton offers unflinching views of herself, her husband and her political opponents — including both Trump and Bernie Sanders. And she drew a parallel between the current occupant of the White House and authoritarians around the world.
“Historically, most authoritarians were elected to start with,” she said. “A guy wins — mostly, usually, always a guy — and then he takes over and then he starts manipulating the press. And then he starts manipulating what reality is. And then he starts undermining the rule of law. And so pretty soon people don’t know what to believe.”
Clinton urged everyone — Democrats, Republicans and independents — to vote. To not become “so discouraged, so frustrated, even disgusted, that it just turns you off.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” she said. “It wasn’t so long ago that we actually had a president where we didn’t have to worry every morning when we woke up about what was going to happen that day. Or what crazy tweet would threaten war or some other awful outcome. So there is no substitute for voting.”
And she said there are some “hints” in “Hillary” that will shed some light on the current state of politics in America.
“We are living in such a transformational age,” Clinton said. “And whether it ends up on the high side or the low side, we’re not clear yet. I’m looking forward to the questions, to the experience, and everything that goes with being at Sundance.”