Alexandra Pelosi has built a rich resume of personal documentaries in which she seeks to build bridges, or simply hangs out with, people with whom she doesn’t agree politically. That approach reaches its logical if somewhat limited conclusion in “The Insurrectionist Next Door,” in which the filmmaker spends time with those who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
Pelosi, notably, was there that day, shooting remarkable footage of her mother, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, which served as the newsiest part of her 2022 documentary “Pelosi in the House.”
In “The Insurrectionist Next Door,” Pelosi’s 15th film under her long association with HBO (like CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery), she follows several people arrested for their role in storming the Capitol, gently trying to extract what motivated them, what if any regrets they might harbor, and whether being misled into a prison cell might have in any way shaken their allegiance to former President Trump.
Not surprisingly, Pelosi finds most of her subjects unrepentant and still convinced that the election was stolen from Trump. Meeting with Paul Hodgkins before and after he served an eight-month prison sentence, Pelosi expresses surprise to find him watching OAN, the hard-right network that, along with others in conservative-media echo chambers, helped fuel the animosity that erupted after the election.
“My opinions on what’s good and what’s not good for our country have not changed,” Hodgkins tells her.
Pelosi wants to be respectful, though she can’t always adhere to that idea. Even when she’s playfully asking questions about what transpired that day – asking “What would have happened if you had run into Mike Pence?” or whether they really would have harmed her mom – there’s a constant sense that the divide between their deeply held convictions and reality doesn’t provide much room for conversation, much less conversion.
“We have to try to understand each other,” Pelosi says at one point while talking to Johnny Harris, who smiles through the interview while insisting that Jan. 6 was really the work of government operatives masquerading as Trump supporters.
Pelosi also speaks to Ronnie Sandlin, who is currently in prison for his actions on Jan. 6, one of the few whose attitude seems to evolve with the passage of time.
“A lot of very sane people lost their sanity for a couple hours,” Sandlin says.
Nevertheless, it’s a long way back to when Pelosi hung out with George W. Bush during his presidential campaign more than 20 years ago for “Journeys With George,” which derived part of its kick from placing Nancy Pelosi’s daughter on what amounted to the opposing team’s sideline.
Give Pelosi credit for seeking to accomplish something similar with “The Insurrectionist Next Door,” even after the brutal attack on her father, Paul Pelosi, and she does foster empathy for some of those featured.
Overall, though, the documentary provokes the dispiriting sense that while people with conflicting views can talk, when the gap’s this wide and the unwavering belief to disinformation this toxic, there’s almost no way to make them hear.
“The Insurrectionist Next Door” premieres October 15 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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