A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
It was the scandal that revealed the moniker “Carlos Danger.” And filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg had their cameras rolling to capture it all.
With their Sundance-bound documentary Weiner, the pair chronicles the tawdry saga of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s bid to rehabilitate his public image following a sexting scandal, only later to be engulfed in a nearly identical embarrassment.
In 2013, Kriegman and Steinberg began working on the movie as a narrative about the disgraced politician’s bid to become mayor of New York. After gaining unprecedented access to the candidate and his family for the would-be redemption tale, the storyline of the now-infamous Carlos Danger — the alias used by the married Weiner to text explicit photos to a 22-year-old woman — emerged.
“When we started this, we thought this could be a remarkable comeback story, but obviously things took an unexpected turn,” says Steinberg.
Kriegman, 35, and Steinberg, 36, continued chronicling the evolving narrative, capturing the unfiltered reactions of Weiner’s wife, political operative Huma Abedin. Distributors who saw the film before Sundance Selects and Showtime partnered to acquire it say the footage is explosive and potentially damaging to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (Abedin is Clinton’s closest adviser and a fixture on the campaign trail). Multiple parties who viewed early cuts of the documentary say Clinton’s team is seen trying to pressure Abedin to immediately cut ties with Weiner, fearing the scandal will hurt the secretary of state’s bid for the White House. (Abedin, who has become something of an obsession for the far right, remains married to Weiner and has a son with him.) The footage is said to offer the kind of rare window into the cutthroat machinations of a presidential campaign that is typically reserved for such fictitious shows as House of Cards.
But Kriegman, who served as Weiner’s chief of staff for years before becoming a filmmaker, denies that Clinton’s team appears in the documentary, raising the question of whether it has been edited to expunge any fodder for the Republican Party.
In yet another twist in the labyrinthine tale, sources say Kriegman and Steinberg turned down an aggressive offer from CNN because they were worried that network chief Jeff Zucker might water down the unflattering look at Team Clinton (CNN declined to confirm whether or not it made an offer on the film). The New York-based filmmakers declined to discuss any issues surrounding the sale of the film or seemingly what’s in it.
Whatever the final version includes or omits will stoke interest far beyond Park City. When interviewed for this article, Kriegman and Steinberg said they were racing to finish the edit before the premiere. Weiner has not seen the film (nor does he have any editorial input) and has no plans to attend, though the onetime politician remains in touch with the duo, having sent them a thank-you note when their film was accepted into Sundance.
“I think that there are a lot of surprises in terms of what people get to see — the access and the human part of his story that they haven’t gotten to see before,” says Kriegman. “It was really about taking somebody who had become really just reduced to one thing in many people’s eyes and getting an opportunity to show that in reality he’s a much more complex and nuanced and interesting human being.”
Steinberg echoes her co-filmmaker, saying many people have reduced Weiner “to a punchline and a caricature, and I think in the course of our film, you get to spend time with him and see him as a complex, nuanced person. And the same is true for Huma.”
When asked to describe how Abedin reacted to Weiner’s betrayal, the filmmakers didn’t want to offer a pat description.
“I think that’s a question we really kind of want to leave to viewers to form their own opinions about her and about him and about the whole event,” Kriegman says.
Premieres on Jan. 24.