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‘The Sixth’ shows what some don’t want to see

Documentary follows mob attack on Capitol

By Jason Dick, CQ-Roll Call
Published: May 18, 2024, 6:06am
3 Photos
Supporters of President Donald Trump clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Supporters of President Donald Trump clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images) Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON — As photographer Mel D. Cole settles into a chair to share his memories of the mob attack on the Capitol, he looks at the camera and says, “Are you ready?”

“And that’s what we’re asking all audiences. Are you ready? Because you should be. To be an educated citizenry, you need to understand we literally almost had democracy tumble. … It was very close,” said Andrea Nix Fine in a recent interview.

She directed the new documentary “The Sixth” alongside her husband, and they acknowledge it was hard going. “It wasn’t easy with this film, because people didn’t want to talk. People wanted to move on quickly; people had exhaustion,” Sean Fine said.

Sifting through footage from Jan. 6, 2021, they saw blood smeared on the Capitol steps and police hit with flagpoles, batons and orange streams of bear spray. Voices in the crowd yelled, “You better run, cops,” and “You’re going to die tonight.”

Those scenes may feel familiar by now, but “The Sixth” recaptures the fear and urgency of the day with the help of six eyewitnesses, including Cole, a congressional staffer, a member of Congress and police officers.

“If we forget and we don’t acknowledge how painful that was, how difficult that day was … we can’t move on,” Sean Fine said.

This interview has been condensed and edited. To hear more, listen to Episode 323 of the “Political Theater” podcast.

How did you decide to make a film about Jan. 6?

ANF: We actually had a crew filming down at the Capitol that day because we were already making with A24 a film about the peaceful transition of presidential power, ironically enough.

We lost touch with our cinematographer, Caz Rubacky, for almost two hours. I think the crew got separated, and then he wasn’t responding to any phone calls. We were terrified.

SF: Our cinematographer kept filming. As soon as he was safe and got back we started to talk about it, even before we looked at the footage. And then we called A24 the next day and said, “Look, I know you’re putting all this money into this other film, but this is significantly important. We have to do this.”

We hear from six different people who were in and around the Capitol that day.

SF: Rep. Jamie Raskin was the first person we approached to tell his story, and he was so generous. The other night at the premiere he told us, “I did not want to do this at first, [but] I’m really glad I did.”

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ANF: Raskin had lost his son and buried him just the day before, and he had his daughter at the Capitol [on Jan. 6]. And congressional staffer Erica Loewe, she’s talking about her mother who has Alzheimer’s, and she wasn’t able to call her because she didn’t want to confuse her and upset her. Those are the stories we wanted to make sure to share, more than anybody asking, “Oh, what party does that person work for?”

This seems like it should be required viewing, particularly at freshman orientation for Congress.

SF: It wasn’t easy with this film, because people didn’t want to talk. People wanted to move on quickly; people had exhaustion. You know, “I’m tired of seeing this. I’m tired of watching this.” I have to say, our team was exhausted. Our editors probably have PTSD from just watching everything.

We listened to everything. And that’s another part of the film that I think is different from [others]. You hear things said in that crowd. We’re not doing movie magic and taking sounds from other places — it’s happening at that time. You’re hearing things in the crowd that I’ve never heard before.

ANF: It was very violent and still is traumatic for people who were in it. If you don’t deal with the truth of something like that, it rears its head and it comes out in twisted ways. And it’ll just repeat itself.

You live in D.C. This is your home city.

SF: I’m from here. I’m fourth generation, and we’ve made this our home. It’s where we’ve edited our films, but we’ve never actually filmed anything here, except this.

My grandfather was the photographer for the Washington Redskins back when they were called that. He was also a photographer for the Washington Star newspaper, which doesn’t exist anymore, and he has a picture from World War II of a veteran standing with his wife and his son, who’s just returned with crutches, looking at the lit-up Capitol at night.

It’s a very poignant picture that ran on the cover of the paper, and it’s peaceful, and it means something. And I was looking at that the other day, and then I was looking at some of the imagery that we have. And it’s so polar opposite.

In the film, MPD officer Daniel Hodges says that victory doesn’t always look like what we want it to, but we did win that day.

SF: People went back to work because they believe in something. They believe in democracy, they believe in how our country runs. They believe in the freedoms that we have. We forget that we’re an incredible place. Look, we’ve traveled to countries all over the world making films. In Uganda, where we filmed “War/Dance,” you walk down the street and there are guys with RPGs and AK-47s and things like that. And kids see that every day.

ANF: I think Raskin said it so well. He said eternal vigilance. That’s what we need, and we need to do it together. Those are some of the last words in the film, and it’s the sentiment we want people to walk away with.

It was a victory, but it’s a victory that only maintains if we become active in it. Because none of that’s going away. In fact, it’s uncomfortable thinking how these forces are lurking underneath that have only become bigger, faster, stronger, more adept.