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PopPolitics: ‘A Capitol Fourth’ Brings Unity in Time of Political Division (Listen)

Plus: D.A. Pennebaker on JFK's Unprecedented Access to the Oval Office

Tom Bergeron, host of this year’s “A Capitol Fourth” on PBS, hopes that the event on the west lawn of the Capitol in Washington on Monday is a reminder to put current political divisions in perspective.

The non-partisan event on PBS features performers like Kenny Loggins, Smokey Robinson, Amber Riley, Gavin DeGraw, Cassadee Pope, Sutton Foster and the National Symphony Orchestra.

“Something like this, ‘A Capitol Fourth,’ during a year like this, kind of underscores that while it may be divisive, it may be contentious, it may be ugly at times, we are all part ultimately of a big albeit dysfunctional family,” he tells a special Independence Day edition of Variety’s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM. “And we have been through a lot worse. I have had people say, ‘Have you ever seen it this bad?’ I say, ‘Do you remember the Civil War?’ There’s been worse things.”

Bergeron cited the success of the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which he says “brilliantly displays” the birth of the U.S. while at the same time shows “how contentious and ugly some of the aspects of that were.”

“As with any real estate purchase, I think the ideal party is all about location, location, location, and how can you beat DC and the west lawn of the Capitol for the Fourth of July non-partisan party?”

Listen below:

How Filmmakers Got a Close-Up View of JFK’s Oval Office

D.A. Pennebaker is most famous for the Bob Dylan documentary “Don’t Look Back” and the Clinton campaign film “The War Room.” But in the early ’60s, he was in the documentary unit of Robert Drew & Associates, which was producing a series of innovative films chronicling the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy and later his time in the Oval Office.

The movies, including “Primary” and “Crisis,” are unusual for the level of access Kennedy granted to the filmmaking team, and almost unthinkable today as public figures are perpetually on guard and determined to craft their own narrative. The movies were recently released as part of the Criterion Collection’s “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates.”

Pennebaker tells “PopPolitics” that Kennedy was willing to allow cameras to follow him because he was determined to have a visual record of history. In “Crisis,” Pennebaker followed Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy as they navigated a standoff with Alabama Gov. George Wallace over the 1963 integration of the University of Alabama. Both Kennedys, Pennebaker says, understood the power of this new style of filmmaking, sometimes called cinema verite, even as others in media and the administration did not.

Listen below:

“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety‘s Ted Johnson, airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.

(Pictured: Alabama at a dress rehearsal for last year’s “A Capitol Fourth.”)

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