Editor’s Note: This panel took place before the most recent allegations that Anthony Weiner was sexting with an under-age female.
Since premiering at Sundance, “Weiner” continues to be one of the most talked about documentaries of the year and now is projected as a frontrunner for the Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary. The film also continues to garner attention from its subject Anthony Weiner, whose separation from his wife Huma Abedin and his latest sexting scandals continue to be headline news.
This year’s IFP Film Week featured a case study of the critically acclaimed documentary, featuring producer Julie Goldman and co-directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg. The panel touched on a number of elements about making “Weiner,” but also the continued downfall of the former politician.
Photo By James Autery
Distributors Weren’t Initially Interested
While the film is huge hit, “Weiner” was met with little interest from distributors when the project was in its infancy.
“When we told most people that we were making a documentary about Anthony Weiner, they just kind of shrugged,” said Kriegman. “The common thought was how much is there really to tell.”
Goldman said that people found the topic “distasteful” at first. “But I think the minute they saw some of that early footage, it was off to the races,” said Goodman.
Weiner As a Shakespearean figure
A politician’s fall from grace usually is compared to Shakespeare, and that is definitely how the filmmakers saw their subject.
”I immediately thought of Caesar,” said Steinberg.”I literally had Shakespeare’s ‘Caesar’ by my bed and we would flesh it out. We talked about that trope of a great character that your strength is your weakness. And that was the case with Anthony and you see that on a grand stage.”
Photo By James Autery
The Latest Scandal
The directors did not seem too surprised by Weiner’s latest sexting scandal and separation from Abedin.
“I guess it felt both shocking, but totally unsurprising at the same time,” said Kriegman. “It is amazing that Anthony was able to do this again in the very same self-destructive manner.”
“We understand that this is a part of his story,” said Steinberg. “[It] makes you wonder how he can be so smart and have these personal failings… They’re real and you see it in the film. But in relation to the film, the new scandal has drawn more attention to [it].”
It is hard to go into ”Weiner” without an established opinion of the disgraced politician. However, the filmmakers felt it was their job to challenge that.
”It takes a preconception and challenges it,” said Kriegman. “People arrive at this film with a judgment and sense of what happened that they’ve acquired from — in most cases through — modern media, sound bites, tweets, etc. But then you get to sit with a real person for an hour and a half and for a lot of people, that’s challenging. People come up to us afterward and tell us that the film transformed their sense of what the story was about and who Anthony is.”
Steinberg said showing the very human story of Weiner led people to see their subject’s complexity, which doesn’t come through in the 24 hour news cycle and entertainment driven political coverage.
“[People who see the movie] are always saying how it is far more multi-fascinated than they had originally perceived,” said Steinberg. “But the reason we feel excited about our film is because of how relevant it is to our current politics right now. Look at our presidential race and the media. It’s very hard to have a conversation about serious issues. That’s something that you see in our film.”
Weiner’s View of the Film
The filmmakers did not address Weiner’s recent claims that they did not have permission to use footage of Abedin in the film. When asked if Weiner and Abedin had seen the film, Kriegman responded, ”Anthony has chosen to keep his distance from the film. We offered to show it to him and Huma before it premiered at Sundance and they declined to see it and chose to stay away from it. I can’t speak for him about how he feels about it, but I imagine he will see it at some point and hopefully he will be able to appreciate the intention behind it.”