If it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, most people probably would not know who Dr. Anthony Fauci is. At the height of the crisis, he addressed the nation on a daily basis and, even under scrutiny from the former President, was never afraid to speak the truth or provide the public with accurate information about the then-unknown (and still mysterious) virus.
What most people don’t realize is that Dr. Fauci wasn’t doing anything new back then. While the circumstances were different, he was just doing the same job he’d already been doing for decades. Even though he’s a household name now, Fauci has been a cornerstone for all public health crisis since the 1970s.
In the new National Geographic documentary Fauci, not only does the world finally get to see all the other great work he’s done, it gets a rare up-close-and-personal look at who the man behind the (face)mask truly is as a human being.
Recently, TheDisinsider’s very own Dempsey Pillot was fortunate enough to speak with the directors of the film, John Hoffman and Janet Tobias. You can read the full interview down below:
DEMPSEY PILLOT: Pleasure to be speaking with you both. I really enjoyed the film. It’s something that I was talking to one of my co workers about the other day, because they said they had also expressed interest in watching it, and I said, [it’s] something I was expecting, but not so soon. And let me ask you, that will be my first question. Do you guys think it’s too soon for a profile like this, considering that he’s most known for COVID and the world is still reeling from it?
JOHN HOFFMAN: I don’t think it’s too soon, and the reason why is that the most important task the doctor Dr. Fauci had in the fight against COVID, was developing effective vaccines. And we have three effective vaccines. And they are in millions of arms, billions of arms around the world, and they are doing their job with great effect. And so the other aspect of Dr. Fauci’s work is as a public health communicator, that work will always live on. He has a lot more work to do so that more people get the vaccine and more people wear masks to protect themselves. But the main job was done, and we were there when he got his shot.
DP: Anything you want to add Janet?
JANET TOBIAS: No, I think that what you learn about Tony is he’s in pandemics epidemics and infectious diseases for the long haul. He’s still working on AIDS four decades later, and trying to improve the prevention modalities and the treatments that we have. So it is a journey of his life.
DP: Now, my next question is, when exactly was this filmed? I’m assuming that because early on in the film, it’s established these talking to somebody about vaccine. So is it safe to say that you guys started filming this in the middle of pandemic, or a few months ago? or I guess there’s really two questions: When was this conceived? And when was it filmed?
JT: It was actually conceived in December of 2018. I went to to Tony Fauci and said – we were working on another project on AIDS – and I went to him and said, “It’s incredible that no one has done a film about your life.” He’s worked for seven presidents, and he’s testified in front of Congress more than any other living human being, supposedly. And he’s worked with all sides of the political aisle for decades as one of the longest serving public servants. And I said, “That is a story that I’m really interested in telling.” And so he went away and thought about it, and said, “Yes,” and then, in the way of dogs, we didn’t really start until the fall of 2019. And then obviously, the pandemic happened, and then we really had to pivot.
DP: So you would say that this was the ideal time to do it, if you were gonna do it, because he was in the spotlight so much?
JH: Absolutely. You know, Dr. Fauci seemingly overnight became a major icon in this country and around the world, and so we felt so excited that National Geographic and Disney agreed that this was the time to tell this, a doctor, scientist, and public health official’s story. We, from the beginning knew that once COVID was in full swing – and it was turning out to be the second major pandemic of my life – then this is going to be a film about the two fantastic great pandemics over time and then we would have this opportunity to compare and contrast Dr. Fauci’s role in HIV/AIDS and COVID.
DP: And I also really love the way it highlights his personal life, which I feel has been the biggest mystery about him. A lot of the people that questioned him when he first came out or when they first started to hear his name a lot more [were] like, “Who is that guy?” And this really answers that question but on a much more personal level, showing us how he met his wife, who his kids are, the sacrifices – or the professional sacrifices – that he didn’t take, or that he should have maybe, in hindsight. That leads me to my next question. I love how you guys open the film up with Tucker Carlson and all the other people in that group grilling him and treating him like he wanted this, which in one way way he did because he chose this profession, but he didn’t choose to be in the limelight [like he is]. He’s a reluctant hero in that respect. And so I wanted to get your thoughts on that. Do you guys perceive him as the reluctant hero?
JT: Yeah, I think I often compare this to: it’s like you were doing your job, and suddenly you’re invited into the Roman Forum, and people are throwing roses at you and they’re throwing garbage at you, and you had no idea that this would happen to you. But as his daughter Jenny says, he has an incredible ability to focus where most of us would be completely distracted by either the praise or the criticism. He really focuses in on the science and public health questions, and it’s actually quite amazing to see that happen among all this noise.
DP: Now, I know the main focus, obviously, as you said before, is to highlight him as an individual prior to COVID [or] what he should be known for if there wasn’t a pandemic, but what are you hoping that people take away from this film?
JH: Clearly we want people to know Dr. Fauci’s story. There’s 50 years of work at the NIH, 50 years of public service. It’s not a coincidence that this is the man that they’re seeing on the televisions and repeatedly trying to convey the science and the evidence about how to protect themselves, how to really save their themselves and their families. We want people to know the story of the man. Above all, he’s deserving of it. But we also want to really highlight and celebrate public service. This is a man who has devoted his his life to the service of the country, to the service of others. We feel that there is, in a sense, no greater calling than that in in our culture, but we don’t honor and we don’t elevate public service enough. And so we see Dr. Fauci and others see him as one of the greatest public servants in our country.
DP: And just to add to what you said, everybody – this this term became very popular over the past year and a half or so – the frontline workers, the people who are at the forefront of the the pandemic, he is their leader. [He’s] in the front of the frontline workers, and he has been all these months, so I think it’s a great thing that you guys have done with this documentary. Now,those are, honestly all the questions that I had about it, is there anything else that you guys want to add, or that you think the public should know about the film?
JT: I would say to that is one of the things I was really impressed by, as you see how he remembers and is incredibly affected by having been a frontline healthcare worker, literally, and AIDS and treating patients who were dying in the film, but with the help of actually one of the AIDS activists [he organized] a bi-weekly call with frontline workers around the country, a small group in some key cities, because he really wanted to hear [what was going on] from the people on the ground. I would [also add], what john usually says is that in a time of a great division in America Tony Fauci works really hard to listen and build bridges. You can see that [during] AIDS when people hung him in effigy, and said he was a murderer. And he sat down and came to New York and listen to AIDS activists and said, “What are they saying that’s true?” and “What do I need to do about that?” and “How do I build a bridge?” And you can watch him [during] COVID, constantly communicating, trying to build bridges to people [against] this is a common enemy. This virus is the common enemy. It’s all of our common enemy. And so I think I learned a lot about trying to build bridges and listening from Tony Fauci.
Fauci is available to stream on Disney+ now.