French brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet are known for their documentary about New York firefighters that became “9/11” – an on-the-ground account of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the city. Over two decades later, the brothers have made another docu about an attack on America’s democracy titled “January 6th.” Told from the perspective of the Capitol and Metropolitan police officers, journalists, senators and congressmen, the doc is meant to be an apolitical account of the attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Metropolitan Police Commander Robert Glover, and former congresswoman Liz Cheney, are among the 50 survivors who participated in the two-and-a-half-hour Discovery+ film.
The Naudet brothers spoke to Variety about their decision not to interview Capitol insurrectionists, making a film without political bias, and why they specifically wanted to partner with Discovery+.
Did you decide to make a doc about the Jan. 6th attack on the day of the riot or after?
Jules Naudet: It was after when we were watching the first day of Donald Trump’s impeachment, a couple of weeks after the attack on the Capitol. When they started the impeachment, there was a 20-minute video, which was a recap of the personal stories from inside (the Capitol) when the riot was happening. We were struck by the stories. People were talking about these moments of heroism, humanity, and discreet courage. It’s the same humanity that we always look for in all of our projects. We thought, okay, this is definitely a story we’d like to tell.
The majority of the Congressmen and women interviewed in the docu are Democrats. A few Republicans participated, including Troy Nehls (U.S. Representative for Texas’ 22nd district) and Adam Kinzinger (U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 16th district). Did you reach out to a few Senate and House Republicans or all of them?
JN: We sent emails to all 50 Republican Senators and about 115 Republican Congressmen and women. At the end of the day, all we got were four responses, which we were incredibly happy that we got. But yes, most Republicans did not want to participate. We wish we had more. We tried.
Capitol and Metropolitan Police Departments granted you full access to their officers. You’re the only doc team they have given that access to. How did you convince them to let you in?
JN: The most important part in our documentaries, and this one is no different, is the preparation that happens before filming. To be able to have access to these people who were there to participate takes a lot of work. We had to earn their trust. The Capitol Police took us about five months to get the authorization, and for the Metro PD it took us nine months. It’s about not rushing and being clear about explaining what we wanted and what we’ve done in the past. Our work on “9/11” and some of the other work we have done helped a lot.
Why was it so important that the police who defended the Capitol be part of the doc?
Gedeon Naudet: No matter how many politicians, senators, congressmen, even staffers, and journalists we interviewed, people would say, “They are Democrats” or “They are Republican.” We knew that the first line of defense was the police officers. Without them, you can’t tell the story. And without them, people can basically accuse you of being for one side or another.
Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman diverted the insurrectionists from the floor of the Senate. He received the Congressional Gold Medal for his heroic efforts and is arguably one of the most well-known January 6th police officers but is not featured in the film. Why?
JN: We tried, but he’s a very discreet individual. We tried to get absolutely everybody.
Why did you want to make this doc – about a very political situation – apolitical?
GN: Simply telling the facts and simply telling the story will do the job. The moment you try to be political, then you are making a film for just one audience.
JN: When you think about police officers, the senators, congressmen, and staffers involved in January 6th, we tend to see only their uniform or their title, but what we forget is under all of that, there is a human being. There’s a mother, a father, a son, a daughter. Seeing that terrible day through that human perspective is one way for the American public to really look at the attack and maybe not shy away from it. We want people to discover these people. We were never looking to make a documentary with a political message.
Did you ever consider interviewing any of the insurrectionists?
GN: No. In all our films, we always are interested in the victims and never the attackers. It’s always about how you would feel if you were someone in this place and have no idea what’s coming to you. At that moment, you discover yourself. That is what fascinates us.
JN: We are not investigative journalists. Journalists have to treat both sides, which is normal. What we do is slightly different. For us, it starts at a place of passion, a place where we are inspired by people, and that’s what we want to show.
You pitched this project to several platforms and ultimately went with Discovery+. Why?
JN: We didn’t want a platform or broadcaster that might be seen as leaning Democratic or Republican. That’s why we thought Discovery+ was fantastic. “Honey Boo Boo” and “Deadliest Catch” are not exactly political lines in the sand, so we thought it was perfect to have this neutral platform where people can look at the story of that day through a different lens than the usual political or investigative one.
“January 6th” debuts Jan. 5th on Discovery+.
More from Variety
Best of Variety