In the years following the Civil War, ancestors of documentary filmmaker Peter Kunhardt collected a treasure trove of photographs, rare books and other artifacts relating to Abraham Lincoln. Over the decades, their descendants carried on the work, helping to preserve an essential part of America’s past.
Directed by Kunhardt (HBO’s Emmy®-winning “JFK: In His Own Words”) and Brian Oakes, LIVING WITH LINCOLN explores his family’s physical and emotional connection to the president, revealing a personal side of the immortal leader through a modern-day journey of discovery, obsession, depression and despair.
Narrated by director Peter Kunhardt, LIVING WITH LINCOLN chronicles how five generations of one American family have shared the “glorious burden” of collecting, preserving and documenting a vital archive relating to Abraham Lincoln. Beginning with great-grandfather Frederick Hill Meserve, Kunhardt’s family collected photographs that might have been lost forever, including now-iconic portraits used on the penny, the five-dollar bill and even the image used to create Lincoln’s likeness on Mount Rushmore.
Through photos, home movies and the words of Kunhardt’s ancestors (voiced by living relatives), the documentary profiles family members for whom stewardship of the Lincoln collection became an obsession, including his grandmother, Dorothy Kunhardt, author of the classic children’s book “Pat the Bunny” (which was published 75 years ago), and his father, Philip Kunhardt, Jr., a former managing editor of Life magazine. Juxtaposing the challenges and the humanity of the Lincoln revealed in the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection with those of his ancestors, Kunhardt sheds light on the rewards and, in some cases, pitfalls involved in helping to preserve an important part of America’s past.
This treasure trove of Lincoln memorabilia, much of which has been stored in attics and basements, has brought both pride and responsibility to family members, sometimes at the expense of careers and health.
LIVING WITH LINCOLN is at once a look back at a towering American president – who was the most-photographed man of the 19th century – and a memoir of a single American family. Showing the importance of preserving the past, the film underscores the fact that even the most revered public figures, and the people who safeguard their legacies, are ultimately and essentially human.
Peter Kunhardt’s previous HBO credits include the Emmy®-nominated “In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01,” “Bobby Kennedy: In His Own Words,” “Nixon on Nixon: In His Own Words,” the Emmy®-nominated “Gloria: In Her Own Words” and the Emmy® winners “JFK: In His Own Words” and “Teddy: In His Own Words.”
LIVING WITH LINCOLN was produced by Peter Kunhardt along with his sons Teddy Kunhardt and George Kunhardt; directed by Peter Kunhardt and Brian Oakes; edited by Brian Oakes, Chris Chuang and George Kunhardt. For Kunhardt Films: executive producers, Peter Kunhardt and Dyllan McGee. For HBO: supervising producer, Jacqueline Glover; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.