Referring to one part of the film showing the famous White House Easter egg roll, Chapin quipped in comments to the audience that “the head of the IRS was not there at that point” — in reference to former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman telling a congressional committee that the annual event could have been a reason he was at the White House more than 150 times.
The Our Nixon screening Saturday, part of the AFI Docs Film Festival, precedes the film’s public debut on CNN Aug. 1. A DVD release will follow in December.
On a panel discussion moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper after the National Archives premiere, Chapin said the film composed of the White House home movies, newsreel footage, and Nixon’s recordings of phone calls and meetings just represented a “little sliver” of those years.
“Whether that’s ‘our’ Nixon… is open to conjecture,” Chapin said on the panel that included the film’s director, Penny Lane.
“It doesn’t represent for me the whole presidency,” he continued, arguing it dismissed the contributions Nixon made to the country.
Nixon speechwriter Lee Huebner noted that “so often we want to make heroes or villains out of politicians.”
Lane said she was particularly interested in focusing on the Super 8 films of Chapin, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman to capture the “human toll” of Watergate.
The director, who was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” last year, vowed “we had honest to God zero agenda” in making the film, which was intended to be released for this year’s centennial of Nixon’s birth.
Chapin, though, disagreed with the filmmaker’s attempt to show two sides of Nixon through the archival footage.
“I really don’t know of two Nixons,” the former aide said. “…That does not represent to me the man that I knew.”
Chapin stepped down in 1973 after his college friend Donald Segretti was tied to the “dirty tricks” campaign. The following year, Chapin was convicted on charges that he lied to the grand jury and served nine months behind bars.
He described those years in the White House as fun with a presidential team that was constantly laughing about things — a spirit conveyed in their home movies included in Our Nixon.
As far as those secret audio recordings, “other presidents have the benefit of learning from Nixon,” Chapin said after the event. “They’re not gonna do it.”
“I liked it better today than the first time I saw it,” he added of the film. “Especially the music; ['Nixon Now'] was the best campaign song ever written.”