Filmmaker Alex Holder on Sitting Down with Ivanka, Eric and Don Jr.: 'This Family Is All About the Brand'

"When we see these candid moments you get to see behind the façade," Holder tells PEOPLE of the Trump family. His new three-part docuseries, Unprecedented, is now available for streaming on Discovery+

Alex Holder interviewing Ivanka Trump
Alex Holder interviewing Ivanka Trump. Photo: AJH Films

Alex Holder didn't set out to make a documentary about the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Donald Trump supporters descended on the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were certifying the vote for Joe Biden. But the riots have become a central theme of the publicity surrounding his new three-part Discovery+ series, Unprecedented.

Holder, a British filmmaker, undertook the project as a way to delve into the Trump family via candid, behind-the-scenes interviews at the White House in the weeks leading up to the November 2020 election. As a result, he and his team also inadvertently captured how the family responded — or didn't — to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Holder was recently subpoenaed by the bipartisan House panel investigating the Capitol riots, confirming that he had handed over hours of the footage he obtained while filming the Trumps. Since being subpoenaed, he's been subjected to threats, accused of being involved in a number of conspiracies, and now travels with security hired by Discovery+.

"I wanted to understand who these people are as people," Holder tells PEOPLE. "They had been saying for so many years that no one was giving them time to explain who they were."

So he offered them the chance, reaching out to the Trumps about filming a documentary, but remaining adamant that they have no editorial control over the filming or production. Perhaps surprisingly for a family that has long been concerned with their public image, the Trumps agreed.

Trump family
Trump family. ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty

"They were in the final weeks of campaigning for the presidency and they thought they were going to win," Holder says. "I think that hubris is absolutely an important part [of why they agreed to participate.] Also, I was foreign ... so perhaps they thought my perspective is something that was different."

The resulting docuseries offers a window into the family dynamic, particularly via candid scenes: the former president can be seen trying to get the perfect shot by directing those near him to move a glass of water. Ivanka, too, looks to be examining how she appears while sitting for a separate interview, asking the filmmaker whether a line in her dress is visible to the camera. Don Jr., an avid hunter and staunch proponent of gun rights, can be seen in one scene being ushered out of a campaign rally after a member of his security team whispers, "These people have not been screened."

Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner all sat for interviews with Holder. Melania Trump, he says, was asked but declined to participate in the film.

Former Vice President Mike Pence also sat for an interview — which took place at a pivotal moment in American history, just days after Jan. 6. In the footage, he can be seen glancing at his phone while he received an email from House lawmakers, imploring him to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office (he ultimately declined to do so).

The interviews with Trump's adult children are among the most notable moments in the series, as they paint a portrait of a Succession-like family with no clear heir apparent — and a win-at-all-cost mentality.

"This family is all about the brand," Holder says. "It's about 'Trump' and what that means. They support the brand in whatever they're doing, whether it's in business, in politics, in TV and entertainment, or as the president of the United States of America. People who watch the documentary will see how that's the ultimate goal. Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric ... They can't comprehend associating failure with the brand."

Part of that refusal to accept failure is seen in interviews with the Trumps, as they question how they could lose an election when their rallies are so crowded.

"When we see these candid moments you get to see behind the façade," Holder says. "That's what's so fascinating: Learning who they are as people — seeing the political awakening of Don Jr. and how important his relationship with his grandfather was ... Looking into Ivanka, who has always been spoken about as Donald Trump's favorite. Does she show any politics and where does that come from?"

Calling them equal parts "fascinating and complicated," Holder cites one moment from the film that he found especially enlightening: when Donald Trump was filmed watching footage of his kids out on the campaign trail.

"The one really significant moment is when he says, 'The kids all have their own base — but it's really my base,'" Holder says.

And that base, as the documentary makes clear, holds the Trump name in almost religious regard.

Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election
Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6, 2021. Spencer Platt/Getty

"We wanted to immerse people in what it's like to be at a Trump rally — the absolute fervor, religious fervor in a way. Believing that Trump would be able to intervene in this ceremonial process and thereby retain power, that's very powerful," Holder says. "These are real people that came to D.C. because Trump told them to come and they went to the Capitol because he told them to go. The wanted to essentially break the American government."

And while Trump himself wasn't able to retain the presidency, he remains a force in the Republican Party — a political kingmaker who likely won't go away, even if he doesn't run again for higher office.

But as Trump's continued obsession with his electoral loss consumes him, his support, some have suggested, could falter. As former Attorney General Bill Barr said in his testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, those false claims of fraud indicate something of a detachment from reality for the former president.

Holder concurs, saying that while Trump initially seemed to know that election fraud was a lie, he eventually began to convince himself.

"What I felt, being in the room with him, is that he became someone who believed his own lie," the filmmaker says.

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But even more than that, Trump and his adult children, says Holder, offered insight into their own ideals — and how their own obsession with branding and public image often, well, trumps politics or ethics.

"I wanted to shed light on who the Trumps are and what's important to them," he says. "And at the end of the day, what's really important? Whether the glass of water is centered in the table or whether one can swap over the entire shot."

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