‘There’s this very toxic energy circulating’

Alexandra Pelosi on her mom, dad and a new documentary

by Mark Z. Barabak

Alexandra Pelosi was having one of those days.

She’s still raw from the hammer attack on her father by a QAnon crazy. “I have not slept through the night since,” Pelosi confessed.

A recent morning found her whipping up a Betty Crocker birthday cake, readying her New York apartment for an invasion of teenage girls and vacuuming the broken glass from a toppled Christmas tree, all while fending off a sister demanding to know why that was included in the new documentary she produced on their famous mother.

The trailer had just come out.

“I’m doing PR management in my own family,” a harried Pelosi said, as a cheery “Happy Birthday” banner — hung in honor of her 15-year-old — did its best to brighten things.

Pelosi, the youngest of Nancy and Paul Pelosi’s five children, is a filmmaker who launched her career with the cheeky documentary “Journeys with George,” a verite look at the 2000 presidential campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush. She spent months living on the campaign charter, as a camcorder-toting producer for NBC News. Pelosi has since created more than a dozen documentaries, on such topics as child poverty, big money in politics and the effects of the tech boom on San Francisco, where she was born and raised.

With a camera as her constant companion — and occasional irritant to those around her — Pelosi filmed thousands of hours of her mother, in public settings and private moments, doing housework and the work of House speaker. The finished product airs on HBO.

“This is my view and it’s my movie,” Pelosi said, noting some in her family might have preferred a more worshipful look at their path-breaking parent. She said the speaker — whom she repeatedly referred to, with professional distance, as “Nancy Pelosi” — wasn’t a particularly cooperative subject.

“If I tried to ask her a question, she never plays ball with me,” Pelosi said. “She never gave me permission to film. She always said, ‘Why are you filming all this?’ She never understood. So it wasn’t authorized, she never signed a release … She saw the trailer, she told me, ‘You should take out this, this and this.’

“I go, ‘Mom, the trailer’s on YouTube,’” Pelosi said in the tone of exasperated offspring the world over.

Not, she noted, that the speaker had any say in the matter.

Pelosi described her latest project as a happy accident growing out of a 2018 conversation in the HBO cafeteria with Geof Bartz, a frequent collaborator and the network’s supervising editor for documentaries. She mentioned her extensive catalog of family footage, and Bartz agreed to take a look and see if there was something there.

That November, Democrats took control of the House, and Pelosi was installed for a second history-making go-round as speaker. The documentary’s perspective shifted from a look back on Pelosi’s career to a more contemporaneous account of her battles with then-President Trump, culminating in the Jan. 6 raid on Congress by insurrectionists seeking to overturn the 2020 election.

In October, the House committee investigating the failed coup released snippets of iPhone footage Alexandra Pelosi shot that day, showing lawmakers fleeing for their lives and desperately seeking assistance to quell the riot. At one point, a furious Nancy Pelosi said she wanted to punch Trump, who incited the violence and blithely watched his marauding supporters on TV.

The tinfoil-hat crowd has seized on Alexandra Pelosi’s presence as somehow proving the whole thing — the desecration of the Capitol, the assault on democracy — was staged. No surprise there. She’s prepared, Pelosi said, for that kind of crazy, as well as efforts to embarrass her mother by turning her work into a mockumentary spoofing the life and unflattering times of the speaker.

“I know that Tucker Carlson will pick out, like, the most silly moments and exploit it for his own political purposes,” Pelosi said of the Fox News hatemonger. “And then all of his followers will go online and destroy my film to ensure it doesn’t get taken seriously as a documentary. And that’s fine. I’m a big girl, I’m wearing my big-girl pants, I couldn’t care less.

“What I do care about,” and here she paused for several seconds, “is that I don’t want them to break into my house and attack me in the middle of the night.”

It was no idle thought.

Pelosi, who has been targeted with a steady stream of death threats, lives now with security outside her apartment. Her teenagers have received death threats as well. She described walking down the street with them and being accosted by strangers demanding answers to some of the ludicrous, conspiratorial questions Carlson and his fellow trolls have raised about the attack on her father.

“There’s this very toxic, negative energy circulating around my family,” Pelosi said matter-of-factly, “and we live with it.”

The release of “Pelosi in the House” could have been a triumphant moment, marrying Alexandra Pelosi’s artistic eye with a lifetime’s worth of unparalleled access to one of the most powerful and important women in U.S. history. The documentary — with its chilling images of Jan. 6, its intimate sausage-making look at the legislative process, its charming mother-daughter banter — is genuinely revealing.

But Pelosi isn’t looking for rave reviews, or to send TV ratings through the roof.

“All I care about,” she said, “is that I physically survive the release of this film.”

Mark Z. Barabak is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, focusing on politics in California and the West.