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Josh Kriegman talks about the making of his documentary

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO

A long-held passion for documentary filmmaking led Josh Kriegman from a career in politics to a career behind the camera.

Kriegman, who served as Anthony Weiner’s chief of staff for two years when he was in Congress, knew that the former U.S. representative would be a great subject for a documentary. “I got to know him well through working with him and obviously got to recognize what a dynamic and interesting and sort of fascinating person he was, and this was years before the scandal,” said Kriegman, who was in Boston earlier this month promoting the film.

Getting to ‘yes’

Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, “Wiener” is co-directed by Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg. It gives an unflinching behind-the-scenes look at the 2013 tumultuous political campaign and personal life of the former congressman’s bid to become mayor of New York City — two years after resigning from Congress because of a sexting scandal.

It took a couple of years of back-and-forth conversations between Weiner and Kriegman discussing the idea and the possibilities of making the documentary, and whether he’d be open to it, according to the filmmaker.

“It really got to the point where he was intrigued, but I thought he was thinking ‘I’m not really going to go for it.’ He was thinking of running for mayor. And so that was that,” said Kriegman.

But one morning the director got the answer that he had been waiting for. On the morning that Wiener announced he was running for mayor, the director received a text from the congressman saying “I’m in the race. With my staff today. At my apartment. Do you want to come with a camera?” Kriegman recalled he “literally leaped out of bed, grabbed his camera and went over and began shooting the campaign.”

With the documentary, Steinberg and Kriegman wanted to show a real person with a heart and soul and feelings behind all the jokes and tawdry headlines.

“I think our intention with the film really was to take this person who had very much been reduced to this punchline by the scandal — very much became, I think, in the eyes of many, a caricature version of himself. I had known him as a more complete person, as a human being, in addition to his flaws, with tremendous talents and a really multi-faceted and dynamic, nuanced complex person,” stated Kriegman.

Up close

The documentary does just that. It shows the rich complexity of Weiner and gives a glimpse into his life — warts and all. When asked why Weiner agreed to being filmed, Kriegman said that he thought that the former Congressman “was hopeful that there could be a version of this story that went beyond the punchline version, the New York Post headline version. I think that was the motivation. I think that he had some sense that there might be some value to having a camera in the room capturing more than just what the media was going to report on in terms of the scandal. I think that’s what ultimately persuaded him to let us film and to keep filming throughout.”