The best family films to watch in the BT TV PlayerMay 30 | 2 min read
Interest in the Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky in the mid Nineties is such that when a documentary about it aired in the US it still sparked debate.
Now available on the History channel, the documentary investigates Bill Clinton’s affair and his subsequent impeachment, with UK fans calling it “fascinating”, “powerful” and a “must-watch”.
BT TV spoke exclusively to its Emmy-winning director Blair Foster (pictured above) about working on The Clinton Affair and what she’s eyeing up as her next documentary project (hint: it's not Trump).
1. Other than Linda Tripp, who secretly recorded her phone conversations with Lewinsky, someone who doesn’t come across particularly well in the documentary is Hillary Clinton, especially in the way she stands by Bill [Clinton] in all those public TV interviews [after his affair was leaked]. Did making the documentary change your opinion of her?
You know, it did, it changed in a lot of ways. First and foremost, I don’t think I had really appreciated back in 1992 when the Clintons emerged on the national scene (pictured above at the time) just how passionate both of they were to be honest.
I knew Bill Clinton, across the board people will tell you he’s a great politician, even the most conservative of Conservatives will tell you that.
But digging back through the material, I was probably 19 or 20 at the time when he was elected, I don’t think I realised how controversial she was at that time, that she took an office in the West Wing, which was not the traditional thing for the First Lady to do.
So that kind of changed what I thought of her in one way. But I think it’s interesting how women who are married to politicians who have these scandals are criticised no matter what they do.
There’s a contingent who would criticise them for leaving [their husbands] and there’s a contingent that criticises them for staying. In that respect, she’s damned if she did, damned if she didn’t.
2. What do you make of the recent comparisons between Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama [about their post-White House careers]?
I think it’s an unfair comparison. It’s interesting to me because I feel like these are the kinds of comparisons and discussions we don’t have about men, we only have them about women. It’s unfair to me on a number of different levels.
3. Did working on the documentary change your opinion on anything else?
In general, I was embarrassed by how little I knew about all of these events. I lived through it, and I didn’t begin to grasp the connection between the Paula Jones lawsuit, what happened with Monica (pictured above), and what happened with Whitewater [the investigation into the real estate investments of the Clintons].
That was one of the other really interesting aspects to it: not only has the Me Too movement been going on through it, but the Robert Mueller investigation [investigating alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 US election] has been going on throughout this as well.
I interviewed a number of prosecutors who had worked with Ken Starr [former Independent Counsel, who investigated Bill Clinton's suspected perjury], and it was very interesting to get insight on a counsel investigation into a President while one was happening.
There were so many things I didn’t know, or really put two and two together.
4. One of the scenes in The Clinton Affair that really struck me was the scene of Donald Trump with some of Clinton’s sexual assault victims in a press conference (pictured below). What did you think of that press conference, and why did you choose to include that?
The three women you’re referring to there appear [separately to the press conference footage] in our series: Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick
They had accused President Clinton of sexual assault or sexual harassment, and we explored their stories to different degrees, with Paula’s getting the most in-depth coverage.
This was a discussion that we had with my editors, and we just felt that because the women - and Juanita Broaddrick especially - had been in virtual silence for almost 20 years but felt compelled to speak out when Hillary tweeted about supporting all women, [Broaddrick] sort of got drawn into things.
You know, the series doesn’t get into 2016 [Donald Trump’s presidential campaign] at all, but I felt like it would be remiss if we didn’t address the fact that these women's stories really endured and really played a role in 2016.
One thing that I really wanted in this series was for all women to tell their stories, to give them a fair hearing. It felt like a kind of complicated ending, or a complicated chapter, in our public discussion about these women’s stories.
5. Would you be interested in using Trump as a subject matter for a political documentary in the future?
Ooh, I don’t know! *laughs* Maybe 20 years from now. I was far more interested in this [The Clinton Affair] because it does say so much with where we’re at now, not just with Trump but with where we’re at with talking about sexual harassment, and Me Too etc.
That was a far more interesting way to have this discussion… I’m not sure I could handle something on Trump right now. It’s too difficult just navigating it day-to-day!
At the moment, my current project is sleep! The Clinton Affair was a really intense project with a really intense schedule.
We worked up until the last minute, we’re still sort of recovering a little bit. I’m not sure what I want to do next.
I’ve been working on music projects, and political projects, and it’s always been nice to do those, but at the moment I don’t have anything lined up, so we’ll see.
6. Other than being unable to get the Clintons or Linda Tripp to feature in the documentary, what other obstacles did you face in the making of it?
Apart from the usual struggles that every documentary has, one thing I did notice was people saying “This is 20 years ago, why do we need to re-hash the past? Who cares? There’s so much happening right now, why don’t we focus on Trump?”
I think we had to work a little bit for people to take us seriously, and for people to understand what we were trying to do.
This isn’t about dredging up ancient history, for us… it’s a series about helping to understand how we got to 2016, how we got to Trump.
It was about making people understand that, and why we thought this was a worthwhile project, which was a bit of a challenge at first.
7. Would you say working on The Clinton Affair has been one of the proudest moments of your career?
Well, it’s definitely up there! This was an extraordinary team, and it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked for sure, and I’ve worked pretty hard and so honestly, I was proud that we finished it.
I feel like it’s something in a small way [that] is hopefully contributing to a lot of conversations we’re happening right now [around Me Too and abuse of power], so I’m very proud of that.