Sunday, February 24, 2008

OSCAR WATCH: Directors Andrea Nix and Sean Fine Discover the War/Dance

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

Despite its troubled subjects—three children who are survivors of atrocities suffered in Uganda's war-torn north—"War/Dance" is a beautifully shot and ultimately hopeful documentary about the power of music to heal. Its veteran directors, Andrea Nix and Sean Fine, have had considerable experience making films throughout the world and in all kinds of terrains but they've never shot in such a war-torn place before. Besides the usual problems of filmmaking, the duo had to worry about disease, a dearth of supplies and whether some of their subjects would be attacked again—these are kids who had nearly their entire families wiped out by rebels as young as themselves.

While juxtaposing the beauty of the region with dreadful stories of death and survival, Nix and Fine document several of these children living in a displacement camp who become part of a troupe that competes in their country's national music and dance festival.

There's nothing quite like this film; it arouses one's repulsion at the atrocities cited and awakens a well of compassion at the same time. Full of hope and pain, Nix and Fine's doc much deserves the Oscar nomination they have gotten for this year's Best Documentary. With all the trials and tribulations endured in making and completing this film, they had a lot to talk about as well.

Q: So had you been to Uganda before filming this?

AN: No, we've both been to different parts of Africa but never to Uganda.

Q: How long did it take you to shoot this film?

AN: 12 weeks. In two different shoots, but 12 weeks total.

Q: How long did it take to get the film altogether?

SF: It took about a year and a half.

Q: Was there any apprehension in shooting over there? It must have been quite a process to getting in there to do it.

SF: When we were first approached about shooting a documentary about the situation in Northern Uganda, we had to really talk about it and talk about the precautions we were going to take in order to insure it would be a safe shoot. Both Andrea and I have worked for National Geographic in the past, that's where we've met, so we've filmed in a lot of dangerous locations with dangerous animals and places and I've been to a bunch of war zones before. But this war zone in particular was really dangerous because of its unpredictable nature.

Kids anywhere to nine to 16 were waiting to ambush your vehicle with machetes or AK-47s and there is no reason behind what they're doing what they do--they're just told to do it and so if they get you, they'll pretty much kill you. They're not going to ask you for money, they're not going to negotiate with you. They're going to kill you, because if they kill you they're going to move up the ranks of their kind of "child-soldier..."

AN: ...hierarchy.

SF: Hierarchy. So it was pretty dangerous. We talked about it. Our son was 1 at the time we filmed this. We usually go on all our shoots together. And this time we made a conscious decision to split up.

I went to Northern Uganda and Andrea stayed at home but we were communicating every other day. We lived in the IDP camp an internally displaced camp, and then to speak with Andrea I would climb up this brick wall that was in a local brothel.

That was the only place to get cell phone reception and we'd talk and it would be until three in the morning and I would talk to Andrea about the things I've shot and it was really helpful working this way.

I was so entrenched in keeping everyone safe, and trying to stay healthy myself--actually I got malaria while I was there--that it was really rough going. Trying to keep all that together, along with the emotions going on with filming something like this and then being able to download everything I've shot to Andrea, just to talk to her about it, we we're so in sync that then for her to kind of look back, step back and kind of say this is what the big picture should be, have you thought of this angle, going this way, or ask this question, I mean that's what helped make the film what it is. This collaboration we had was hugely important. If we couldn't talk, then I don't think that it would be the film that it is right now.

AN: Structurally, its probably the most challenging film we've ever worked or taken on, because if you think about--as writers or journalists you have to tell a story that you really want to get to the human content. But you know there's a war, there's a music competition, you have three children to set up, there's a lot of things. We wanted to take people on a journey that brought them to the highs and lows emotionally.

I really wanted this not [just] to be a factual film; we wanted to make this film very different from things that we've made before, and that other people have made before, you know, these kinds of stories. We really thought about how we were going to tell the story in a different way, both in terms of message, as well as the look of it.

SF: They talked with us about the specifics of danger and working in that environment. How we were able to get where we were. Basically Uganda is separated into two countries as far as I can tell. There's the Northern side which is in the war zone and then there's the Southern side which is very peaceful and Kampala is a very peaceful place and everything seems to be going quite well.

And so when you go to Kampala, you have to meet with the military and get permission. That took a lot of meetings; they wanted to know what we were doing, so we got permission to go up and film but they also put restrictions on us.

We [were told] we could not leave the internally displaced camp, we could not be out before 9 in the morning, or out past five in the evening. For a filmmaker, that's awful. For a cinematographer, that's even more awful. That's like the best time to shoot.

So what we did was we said, "Okay," and we stuck to the game plan a little bit but as we decided on Potongo. There was no other way to make the film other than to stay in the camp with the kids. And so what we did was, we got to know the locals and the military really well there. We got to know them by playing late-night card games of "Uno" and we really got to know them and talk to them and once they saw what we were doing, once they saw it was about these kids, they said. "go ahead, do what you want." We did have some hairy moments.

One time we were filming, people would come and say, the rebels just crossed, and they just took three children. We would go where they were supposedly taken and look and we wouldn't see anyone. We had a moment when I had gotten the full-blown symptoms of malaria and not knowing what was going on and we were coming back late at night in a jeep and we weren't supposed to be out this late and we were coming back at 11:30 and there's this log in the road and we stopped and then a bunch of men in camouflage with RPGS come up to the car and with RPGS enter through the windows. It doesn't even make sense to me because an RPG pointed at point blank kills you and the person shooting it too. But they were screaming at us It just kept getting heightened and heightened--we couldn't figure out what was going on.

Luckily for us, it turned out to be the military, a small military outpost and they didn't know that we were allowed out but it took about two hours for everyone to calm down but we were ok. That's the unpredictable nature of what's going on. When you have someone with an RPG, and they didn't look all that well trained, and we found out later that they were really just local people the military hired on and gave them weapons. It's kind of nerve racking. Also I had malaria at the same time was a pretty crazy moment.

Q: When you're in situations like that, everything is crucial and it seems everyone has their own agenda. As a filmmaker, how do you discern who is telling you the truth?

SF: That's a good question because we interviewed many, many kids. We actually started off with two different schools. I see it, as a filmmaker, to find the truth you have to ask the right questions. 75% of it is asking the right question and asking around to see if this is true. And I think 25% is a gut instinct. I rely on that a lot too. I can tell now when someone is really telling me what's going on.

We're also dealing with kids. On the one hand they're very honest, and on the other they do have a pretty wild imagination. So there are instances when they would tell us things that had happened then we had a translator there paraphrasing the answers to their questions.

AN: He was a former child soldier so he was able to so he was able to lend--then you talk to the headmasters.

SF: Yeah, you also rely on the translator as well. Like what's your feelings and interviews--we would take a long time doing interviews, spread them out over a many days. if we got into an intense moment we would let that finish, pack up and come back a couple of days later and maybe we would ask some of the same questions. We would have the question answered two or three times sometimes.

Q: What were some of those tense moments?

UM: Well the most tense moment moments of an interview...was when Dominick says, "I've never told anyone this before, but I've killed people." He tells this whole story of how he kills these farmers. And then he says he had never told anyone this before.

AN: Not even his mother.

SF: Not even his mother. And he and his mother have this really tight relationship and a tight bond. When I heard that I stopped and I said to the translator: "Are you sure this is what he is saying?" And we asked again and he said "Yeah."

We turned the camera off and I said, "You know Dominick, people are going to see this. Your mom is going to see this, I want to show this to you guys, I want to show this to all of Uganda."

And he said "I know."

And then I said, "Are you sure you want to say this kind of thing?" And then he said, "I think this is the most honorable way for me to tell people and that it is the biggest way that I can help."

That's exactly what he said. Even then we didn't continue to keep filming. We stopped. I had to think about it and I called Andrew, and asked "Should we go ahead with this?" And at that point we had it in the can--so we could leave it in the film or leave it out and we had many talks about whether we should leave this in the film. We actually talked about it to him even more and we was like "I want that to be part of my story."

AN: I think that anytime we are feeling, a sharing of something private, this came up with Nancy's scene of her going to her father's grave, a very private moment, actually more than Domnick's story and when he called me about that, that was the most rattled I had ever heard Sean.

And he said "I just don't know what we just filmed, it seems so invasive, so intrusive, so private, I sent the rest of the crew away because I had no idea this was going to unfold this way. And I'm not sure this should be in the film... and we started talking about it and we thought...What's the bigger picture here?

This is something that they trusted you with, they trusted you to be there. So it's not like you're taking something from them that they weren't aware of. Secondly, in terms of the film, some people felt that it was so painful and couldn't watch it anymore and we talked a lot about it because that scene went on for a few hours actually. But giving a glimpse of that allows people to put something in their minds, which is very important to us. There is not a lot of difference between human spirit, over here or over there, that people never get used to losing family members.

These kids are total survivors. Unless you see that grief, you may not understand the depth at which they go through the despair and they never get used to that. Somehow that wasn't just ok that Nancy lost her father and she's deeply affected by that despite how she acts and handles herself. We talked a lot about how that would be in the movie what our answer was in the film was that we just kept cutting that scene shorter, and shorter, and shorter. And it was something that we felt like "what are we leaving people with, what is the human story we're giving to people and what are they walking away with?"

SF: Especially for Nancy.

AN: She's so tough.

SF: She's a tough little adult. Even the way I'm shooting her, I forget she's a kid. She's taking care of her family, she's going to school, she's really good at dancing. And then to see her collapse like was night and day between her personality and what I had experienced with her. We thought that was really important to see that she's a very dynamic individual and human being as well.

AN: That's actually something we felt very strongly about all these kids stories. Why did we approach it this way? We do want to show what's the painful part of what's happening, we wanted people to be aware of what's going on, we felt it was important to show the whole story of these kids, their lives, they are more then what someone has done to them.

They're not solely victims, they are whole individuals and that they are beautiful and talented and resilient and to watch them. And my hair still stands up when I watch the end of our film because that's the part I still cry at. I've seen the film so many times, that we are really taken by how amazing these kids are and that's what we hope the audience will also feel after watching.

SF: The other part about Nancy's scene which is sometimes forgotten, is filming her mother's reaction. It's the first time we get to film a parent's reaction. And I think Andrea and I as parents--your job as a parent first of all is to protect your child. Now when you're in a position where you can't protect your child, what does that do to a parent? And here you're trying to see this mother comfort her daughter, but at the same time dealing with her own grief.

I think sometimes people forget that that mother took her husband in pieces and made his grave and buried him there. So the grief she's dealing with , the trauma she's feeling with at the same time trying to help her daughter when she says to her, "You're too young, I don't want to tell you anymore." And then Nancy gets up and leaves, and then there's just a shot of the mother become helpless by herself. That was very poignant. I think that was just as poignant as Nancy crying. I hope people can look past just the tears and the initial "girl crying" to see more dynamic issues that are going on.
Q: You made a conscious effort not to show the actual, physical violence that goes on in Uganda. Can you explain why?

AN: We feel like those films have been made, again, that the message that we really wanted to get across was the personal experience and what these kids were thinking and feeling and not just about what it felt like to kill somebody. Those are their peak moments of horror in their lives, but the day to day, this is how they're living.

They see themselves as wanting a better life, they're complex, interesting people, they have feelings about being kids, being musicians, they have so much going on there we felt that that was a way that audiences relate to someone. Who hasn't gone gone to a talent contest, who hasn't gone to a swimming hole, who hasn't sit with their mother to tell them to stop fidgeting while she helps sew the hem of your dress, you know? Those moments are really important I think that that message that these kids are being more than just the violence of what had happened to them.

We wanted to share it but we also wanted to do it in a way that was the lease agonizing for them to go through that. We said how are we going to share these stories, in a film, you want to share what had already happened. That's when you get those recreations and all that kind of stuff. We felt we wanted to do it in a certain style and evoke a certain emotion of what they went through but we didn't want to be too specific.

SF: We also want the viewers to get into their mind the trauma that happens to a child. I think that its much more than the general blood and guts drama that we see. We have to face it too, as an American audience, we've seen a lot of that in fiction features. I think that initial trauma is an awful thing to see, that it affects you on such a deeper level, especially for a child. The way they talked about it really influenced how we wanted to shoot. Just the line where Ann says, there were "Ants and flies under that tree" and I remember that sound stuck with me. She remembers sounds and smells and heat, and the influence the visual style.

We did have an opportunity to show some of the violence, we were shown pictures of the massacre, some of the most horrible things I'd ever seen. Bodies, just hundreds of bodies laid across the ground with a big cooking pot...headless and legless. Some guy actually tried to sell them to me for a hundred dollars. I said I didn't even want them. It wouldn't have affected people as much as the way we did it.

Also in Rose's scene, there's skulls and some bones...those are actual bones of people from that massacre. We don't know if her parents are in there, her parents were never buried. She didn't see those bones, but somebody came up to us later and said there's a pile of these. And there was a huge pile of those bodies from that massacre. We didn't' take here there, but I think what Andrea was trying to say is that "yes, they go back to the place where these things happened, but they asked us to take them to these places. "Ok, tell me what happened here."

Q: How did you find this boy soldier/translator that you've found and how did you decide whether or not to include him?

SF: His name is Jimmy Oten, and we found him through...

AN: Human Rights Watch.

SF: Yeah, some of their workers go out into the fields to try and get reports and they go out and try to go out under the radar. And they said we've gotta call this guy. And I called him and we just started a relationship. He was instrumental to the film.

AN: He was very involved. We still keep in contact with the kids. Sean left his cellphone there. We'll get a call from Dominick or his brother and we'll often get it in the middle of the night, this enormous number, and he'd hang up because it doesn't cost him anything to receive a call so we call him back and we keep in touch with him. Jimmy goes back there periodically and he keeps us updated.

SF: We've started a fund for the kids, and Jimmy helps distribute the funds and helps organize that. And keeps up with the kids.

OSCAR WATCH: Doc-Maker Michael Moore Heats Up The Debate with "Sicko"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

What can be said about 53-year-old Michael Moore that hasn't been said before. He's probably one of the first documentary directors—if not the first—to become a household word in his own right, almost a celebrity who commands gossip-porn coverage and even has a team of bodyguards from time to time. In fact, it was almost a given that even with all the excellent docs that have come out this year, "Sicko" stood out enough that once again he has been nominated for an Oscar. Remember, he had won the Best Doc award in 2002 for "Bowling for Columbine."

The idea of the oversized Moore as always in action seems synonymous with who he is; he seems to be always on the move, chasing Roger Smith down in "Roger and Me" confronting Charleton Heston in "Bowling for Columbine" or trying to get interviews from various Bush administration staffers in "Farenheit 9/11." So again he is in action, running off to Cuba to get medical help for 9/11 rescue workers that they couldn't get at an affordable rate in the States in "Sicko," a damning docu-editorial about our flawed health care system.

When the trimmer, close-cropped Moore came in to present himself at a press conference for his latest film "Sicko," he certainly made an entrance being a diva-like 45 minutes late before a packed house of journalists from all over the country and world. But he made up for it speaking at great length to the many questions posed to him. Now, rather than try to distinguish between the many journalists, all questions are asked through a collective meta-journalist, "Q." The irrelevant questions and answers were simply passed over.

Q: You had to sneak the reels of the finished film on the plane to take it to Cannes; when you were making this film, did you have any idea of difficulty to get your work released?

MM: The Bush administration sent me a certified letter 10 days before the Cannes Film Festival informing me that I was under investigation for criminal and civil penalties because I took a group of 9/11 rescue workers who were not receiving health care for the injuries that they incurred as a result of helping down at Ground Zero. I took them down to Cuba and it’s illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba, unless you’re a journalist or doing journalistic endeavors.

The documentary film is a work of journalism. No laws were broken. So [it was] just an attempt by the Bush administration to use our federal agencies, as they have been known to do in the past to politically harass opponents, in this case, me.

Our lawyers felt that in order to protect the film, just in case they would come after the film, that we should make a duplicate master of it and have it stored in Canada. So in case they claimed that, if we brought back 10,000 Cuban cigars, they could confiscate those cigars. They could claim that I took blank film down there that was worth nothing essentially. We filmed scenes that were now had value because they were going to be in this movie, and thus they could potentially come and confiscate the negatives of this film.

Now to even have to say these words in a free country, that I’d have to worry about the confiscation of my film, or going after me as a documentary filmmaker simply because I want to make my movie; this is an absurd thing to even have to deal with. But I guess we had to learn to deal with a lot of absurd things in the last seven years.

Q: Are you just pissing in the wind or do you think, in your heart of hearts, that you can change anything in this country?

MM: All the medical puns kind of came into your head, right [laughs]... I do these things in part because I do believe that things will change. I believe that the American people when they’ve had enough do make their feelings known.

I was thinking about earlier this year. The American people, without any kind of organization, without any kind of political movement or whatever, stopped O.J. Simpson’s book from being published. And eventually resulted in the firing of the publisher. That was an amazing thing.

How did it happen? It was just because there was a mood, a feeling through the country that they didn’t want this book. And they didn’t think he should profit. And they didn’t particularly care for publisher, who was going to publish this book. And suddenly, no book, no publisher. How did that happen? Without any organization, money, PR, ads on TV?

Sometimes things happen when the people will it to happen. And I believe the American public has had it with this broken health care industry and system and they have been just waiting for the moment to rise up and demand change. I hope this film helps provide the spark for that.

Q: What happened to your number one "fan"—the one has operated an anti-Michael Moore site—whose wife you helped; did you have any conversations with him?

MM: The man who runs the anti-Michael Moore website who I helped in the film, I called him just before the first screening of this film at the Cannes Film Festival because I didn’t want him blind-sided by it. You know, getting a call from one of you guys or whatever. I thought the decent thing to do was to let him know that it was me that sent the check. I left a voicemail message on his phone, telling him that. Within 15 minutes, that voicemail message was placed on his site for everyone to hear, which you can hear if you want.

He immediately posted a very nice note, thanking me for helping him and wishing the film well. Now of course he’s a blogger, so he’s up and down depending on what day and how he’s feeling. But generally, he’s been at least personally to me, very thankful and grateful. It was not what everyone predicted, in terms of the people who worked on the film with me. Most people thought we were really going to tick him off.

I was the lone dissenter in that group. I felt that he would respond well to an active kindness. That he would know that even though we might have political disagreements, that this was coming from a place in my heart that believes that even he should be able to see a doctor and not have to worry about paying for it.

Q: Why do you think so many people dislike you or are against your movie without even knowing what it’s about?

MM: Who dislikes me? Do you have a list? Can I see it? What are their names? ([laughs]

Seriously, I feel like I’m in a time-warp. If you’d asked that question three years ago. Or how about ask me that question backstage at the Oscars in 2003, that’s a legitimate question. But now wait, you’re asking me that question in 2007 where 70% of the country now agrees with me and I agree with them. 70% of the country doesn’t support Mr. Bush. 70% of the country is against the war. I’m actually in the mainstream majority, which is a little weird. But that’s where I sit now. I don’t sit out on the edge, I sit here.

Four plus years ago, I was booed off the Oscar stage, for daring to suggest, in the fifth day of the war, that we’re being led to war for fictitious reasons. People did not want to hear that at that time, I understand that. Eventually they came around and realized that what I was saying both on that Oscar stage and in "Fahrenheit 9/11" was the truth.

People remembered that in "Fahrenheit 9/11," I went to a place called Walter Reed Hospital to show how the soldiers were being treated. That was three years ago. The mainstream media didn’t deal with it until a few months ago. That's the story of my life as a filmmaker. From General Motors, when no one listened then and now they’re near bankruptcy, to "Bowling for Columbine," where we still are faced with another school shooting a couple of months ago, to "Fahrenheit 9/11." That is the way it is.

Q: You've said that documentary films are journalism and that you consider yourself as a documentary filmmaker. But this film is being marketed as comedy, on the poster and in commercials. To what degree do you consider this a comedy and, by association, consider yourself a comedian?

MM: I consider myself a satirist and I think satire has always been considered a form of journalism. I mean the Op-Ed pages in our newspaper years ago always contained great satire that Mark Twain would write and others likes him. Will Rogers. In the old days, people didn’t think humor was necessarily divorced from politics, opinions, journalism.

My films are like the Op-Ed page and the Op-Ed page is in a newspaper, I think that is journalism. It’s opinion based on facts. That’s what I produce in my films. But I’m also trying to entertain people and I respect, first of all, the fact that I’m making a film. I’m not running a political movement here. I’m not a preacher. I’m a filmmaker.

First and foremost, I’m trying to make a film that people are going to love to go to on a Friday night, where they walk out of that theatre with exhilarated sense of, “Wow!” We all feel that, don’t we? Whenever we go to the movies, we wished we had this and how often do we get it? Where it’s like, “Man, I haven’t seen anything like that in a while! That was something!”

That’s what I’m going for. That’s what every filmmaker goes for. And ultimately, that’s what I’m trying to do. If a few people be thinking about some of this, maybe doing something, all the better. I’m satisfied if they have a good laugh, or a good cry, get angry, whatever, leave theatre and feel like they’ve just seen something they’ve never seen before.

When you go to my movies, you know that to be a fact. I will take you to a place you never been before. I will take you on a boat into Guantanamo Bay. You’ve never seen anybody sail a boat in the Guantanamo Bay. I will show you Mr. Richard Nixon, through his Watergate tapes, of nothing to do with Watergate, but actually talking about how these HMOs got their modern day beginnings. You’ve never seen that before and that’s what happens in my movies. Thing after thing of stuff you’re not going to get on the evening news. And I hope it’s funny—at least some of it.

Q: Did you map out the ways you went through this—what was your starting point?

MM: [Chuckles.] This film began with, like what I did on my TV show, where we save this guy’s life by embarrassing his health insurance company into paying for an operation they wouldn’t pay for. And I thought, what if we did 10 of those and made that into a feature film? That was the original idea. But then I thought, after we started doing it, that we’re only going to save 10 lives. 18,000 people each year in America die, simply because they don’t have health insurance, and God knows, how many die even with health insurance as I show in my film. I started thinking, maybe we should be taking on the larger system. Not just one company. Not just one person’s problems.

So I made a conscious decision, in the process, to change the course of the film. Then when I asked for people to send me their stories over the internet, I got a lot of stories from people who didn’t have insurance and what they’ve been through. The majority of stories were from people who had health insurance. The horror stories... The things they had to go through, thinking that they’re fully covered. “Oh, yeah, I got benefits on this job. Full benefits.”

You know how many times you’ve said that, if you had that kind of job? Wait until you get a severe illness. Wait to something happens and watch what the company does to try and not pay the bill because they can’t make a profit, if they pay all these bills.

Q: Some countries have an excellent health care system but did you find something that surprised you in a positive way about the American system—something that actually worked?

MM: One thing that surprised me in a positive way while making this film is how many doctors now, in the United States, support socialized medicine. That did not used to be the case. They were the biggest fighters and opponents of it. They now realized that they’ve been had. They supported the HMOs in the beginning. They thought managed care, keep the cost down. Insurance companies said “You’ll make more money, we’ll make more money, we’ll all make more money by providing less care.” Well, really what the insurance companies were going to do was make sure the doctor’s didn’t get paid either. Not only the patient that can’t get their operations paid for or whatever.

If you go to a doctor’s office in this country, if you went to a doctor’s office 30 years ago, there’s one person behind the window, taking your appointments, checking you out and all that, right? Now they’ve got five or six sitting behind the glass window, doing all the paperwork, on the phone, hear them yelling and screaming at the HMO. Fighting to get a $20 bill paid. Doctors have been ruined by this system. They have been demoralized by this system. Now they are the biggest supporter of real change. That is a great thing to have happened.

Q: How do you think the film will be perceived in Europe especially in countries where they live with the assumptions that society should be judged on its weakest members?

MM: As far as this film will do overseas, I think this film should act as a warning to countries like Denmark and other countries thinking of privatizing their system because they want to go to the American way. I want to say to you, I know you like us as people, right? As individuals, right? Present company included, right? But I warn you not to go our way on some of these things. Because if you go our way of creating a society of a bigger gap between the haves and the have-nots, and you have more and more have-nots in Denmark.

As you have more haves not, you know what your side is going to look like? It’s going to look like us too, in the other way, the bad way. You’re going to have more crime. You’re going to have more despair amongst those who are in the lower class, struggling to get by, scrambling for the few crumbs that are available. You don’t want to live in that society. You’re going to feel less safe in that society.

Seriously, for your own selfish reasons, don’t go that way because you won’t be able to live the way that you’ve been living. I hope this films acts as an encouragement to those who have socialized medicine, to maintain your systems. Fix them if they need to be fixed. They all have problems. Fix them but don’t throw the baby out with bath water, as they say in this country.

Q: Your trip to Cuba caused controversy. We know how the US government feels about your trip to Cuba. The Cubans, especially the Cuban population in Miami, feel that you portrayed their homeland in a kinder, more gentle way.

MM: When the Cuban community in Miami accuse me of doing anything, they’re accusing me of something they haven’t seen. They hadn't seen the film [when the first reactions were made]. So they should first see the movie [before they say anything]. When they see the movies, they’ll see that first of all, I hope that they’ll be happy that their relatives and their neighbors who still live in Cuba, at least when it comes to healthcare are being taken care of as best as possibly can be, considering that it’s a poor country.

This isn’t Michael Moore saying this. All the world health organizations, all the different independent organizations have said that Cuba has a very good health care system, especially for an impoverished nation. So I don’t think that’s news really to anybody with me saying something like that.

The important thing to remember here is that I didn’t go to Cuba. We left Miami to go to Guantanamo Bay. We were going to America, to American soil, on the island of Cuba. We were going there because after meeting these 9/11 rescue workers who were suffering from ailments they received as a result of working at Ground Zero, I then saw one day, watching C-Span Senator Frist going through a whole list of things of how well the Al-Qaeda detainees are being taken care of at Gitmo, in terms of the free universal healthcare and dental care and eye care and nutrition counseling that they received. House calls, colonoscopys, screening for cancer, etc.

They were getting better healthcare than tens of millions of Americans. I thought it somewhat ironic that the people that are accused of plotting 9/11 are receiving better healthcare from our government than the very people who ran down to save lives on 9/11. It made absolutely no sense to me. And so, I decided to take these 9/11 rescue workers to our naval base in Guantanamo Bay.

That’s what has upset the Bush administration. That’s what they’re really after because I’m going to tell my fellow Americans that the heroes of 9/11 had been neglected and ignored by our very government that says they are there for them every step of the way – which is not true. All these millions of dollars that the government put into the 9/11 funds, all the checks you wrote, I wrote, everybody wrote and we see these people suffering and dying, who ran down there and risked their lives?

I am ashamed of that as an American. And most Americans will be ashamed of that. That’s why we went down to Guantanamo Bay. Don’t ever question my patriotism. I am a patriotic American. The most patriotic thing you can do is to question your government, especially when they’re screwing up like they are, not providing health to our 9/11 rescue workers.

Q: Are you involved at all as to have the film leaked out onto the internet, to find out how that happened?

MM: Let’s talk about that for a minute. The film that’s leaked on the internet is not taken at movie theatre with a little home video camera, right? The way it’s usually done. This is an inside job. Now if you were a police detective, one of the first questions you would ask is motive. Who has a vested interest in destroying the opening of this film? Who has a vested interest in ruining the opening weekend’s box office of this movie? If I was the police or FBI investigating this felony that’s taken place, that’s where I would look. Having said that, I’m glad people were able to see my movie. I’m not a big believer in our copyright laws. I think they’re way too restrictive.

I just read Don DeLillo’s book, "Falling Man." Wonderful book. If I were suddenly to take this out of my bag and hand it to you right now and say, “Hey, you should read this. It’s great.” Would I be breaking the law? No. I’d be sharing something with you. I’m sharing work of art with you. What happens is, if you like that book, there’s a very good chance you might go on next week and order three more of Don DeLillo’s books. Because you got the free book from me. I’ve never supported this concept of going after Napster. I think that rock bands who fought this are wrong. I think filmmakers are wrong about this. I think sharing’s a good thing.

I remember the first time I received a cassette tape of a band called The Clash. I became an instant fan of The Clash and bought their albums after that, and went to their concerts and gave them my money. But I first got it for free. Everybody’s either young in here or were young. That’s how it happens, right? So I don’t like what’s going on with this issue. But as a filmmaker, I made this film to be seen on a 40-foot screen. I don’t even like DVDs. Honest to God, in my lifetime, I might have rented a dozen DVDs. Literally gone into a video store and rented a dozen DVDs in my lifetime because I don’t like to see movies that way. I like to see them on the big screen. That’s how the filmmaker intended them to be seen.

I really hope people will go see this movie on the big screen and sit there, on opening weekend, with 300 of your fellow Americans—yelling, jeering, cheering, screaming, laughing, crying and leaving the theater like, “Whoa, let’s go have a drink and talk about this.” That’s the communal experience and that’s why the movies never die.

They said television would kill the movies. It didn’t. They said VCRs would kill the movies. It didn’t. Now they’re saying this will kill the movies. It won’t. People want to get out of the house and go to the movies! Nothing’s ever going to kill that. And I hope people do that on opening weekend. But I really think as journalists, it’s worth a phone call to the people who have a vested interest in destroying the opening weekend of this movie.

Q: Who do you think it is?

MM: I’m not a conspiracy theorist [laughs]. But if I were a cop, right? That’s question one: who has something to gain? I’m not talking about a kid going to the theatre with a little video camera, putting it up there. This is the master. This is the actual digital. It’s perfect, okay? You can’t really get that unless you’ve been able to perform an inside job essentially.

Q: What is the status of the case right now with the government regarding Cuba? How have you responded?

MM: We’ve responded to the government saying we did not break the law, that this is the work of journalism. They want us to name the names of the people that we took there, I won’t do that. We’ve taken the necessary precautions to protect the negative of the film, so that it can’t be confiscated. The next move is theirs.

Q: How will new technology help you make your films and how has that changed over the years?

MM: I think about this. If the internet didn’t exist, I don’t know how we would’ve made this film, because I was able to ask the public to send me their health care horror stories via the internet. Before the internet, how would somebody living in Boise be able to get a hold of me? I guess I could try to write a fan letter and send it to the Weinsteins and it may or may not get to me, right? But how would I be able to communicate? Who would put me on national television, saying send me your health care horror stories, when the evening news is funded by one pharmaceutical ad after another every single night. Who’s going to let me do that?

So I had access to the people through the internet and the internet allowed people to communicate directly and personally with me about their stories. That is incredible. What an incredible invention because it brings the small “D”, democracy, into shape and into form. Where we, the people, can really do something. We can create a ruckus. We can fight back. We can ask questions. We can organize. We cut out the middleman.

Before if you didn’t like something you saw in the media, you can send a letter to the editor. Maybe they’d publish it. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. You don’t have to worry about them publishing you at all. You publish yourself. This is a good thing for a free and open society. It was very helpful in the film.

The other thing is that the film was shot in high definition digital video, which at 24 frames per second, unlike the old video which was 30 frames per second and looked like video, this movie looks like a movie. It looks like it was shot on film. That’s what high definition allows you to do. It allows you to use a portable and fairly inexpensive form to shoot your movie on and yet have it look like a movie, film.

Q: How do you respond to people who say that you’re one-sided or that you use smoke and mirrors to prove your point?

MM: First of all, about sharing that appearance on "The View" with [country singer] Toby Keith, I thought that was pretty cool planning on their part because I am considered the male Dixie Chick. I didn’t get a chance to get to talk to him, but I told the producer, I said, “If you get a chance to talk to him, to say anything to Toby, tell him that it really is a good idea to let anyone know, that if you’re going to come and kill our people we will put a boot in your ass.”

Problem is, we didn’t put the boot in the ass of the people or the person who killed our people. We put the boot into people that had nothing to do with 9/11. All we’ve done now is shown the world that we’re incapable of putting a boot anywhere. When you think about it, what’s the message we’ve sent to our enemies? To the terrorists who want to kill us?

Seriously, this war has gone on longer than World War II. We defeated the Nazis, the Japanese and Mussolini in less time than it’s taken us to secure the road from the airport to downtown Baghdad and we still don’t have the roads secured yet. That’s the generals and commanders in chiefs we’ve got running this war.

What kind of message does that send to people who want to kill us if we can’t even secure the road from the airport to downtown Baghdad? It says all these people are pushovers. That’s how unsafe we are now in the world, as a result of this administration.

That’s why I loved Zbigniew Brzezinski [President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor] on Bill Maher and Bill asked him what he thinks. Bill Maher asked Zbigniew Brzezinski, who’s a Conservative Democrat, what he’ll think will happen next year in the 2008 election and Zbigniew Brzezinski said in that great accent he has, “The Republicans will be eliminated. They will be wiped out.” Wow [chuckles]. But the Democrats are known for screwing up even the easiest things.

Q: You give that impression that many US doctors are coming around to a different kind of health system, but that organized medicine, the AMA and other groups, are still very wary of government intrusion. What do you think, would that change? Did you talk to the AMA or Humana or people who were criticized or did you decide you wanted to let the stories to tell itself?

MM: I believe the mainstream media has done such an excellent job letting the health insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies have their say. First of all, they advertise on the news. Many times during the year, you can open up one of our news weekly and see a 12-page advertising section sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. You can turn on your local news all across America, just about any night and hear these words, “Tonight’s health report is brought to you by blankety-blank pharmaceutical company.”

The stories of the pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance companies are being told. My film acts as a balance. I exist to provide balance, and I tell you, it isn’t much balance. They’re on every day, all day. My film is 2 hours. If for 2 hours during this entire year, people are exposed to the other side of the story, isn’t that okay? It’s amazing how they go after me.

People have said before, “You’re biased. You have only one side.” Well, yeah, I have a bias. I have a bias on behalf of the little guy who doesn’t have a say. I’m lucky enough to be able to have this bully pulpit, to be able to say the things I say, on behalf of the people who don’t have a voice.

The pharmaceutical companies and corporate America, they’ve got their voice. They own the networks and they can say whatever they want, all the time, and they do. So can we just have 2 hours for this side to have their say? I hope so, I think so. That’s what I’m trying to do.

Q: What about AMA and organized medicine's wariness about government intrusion?

MM: The AMA has been wrong on every issue. They fought Social Security. They fought Medicare. They supported the HMOs. They have been consistently wrong. I’m hoping when they see this film, we’re going to go over there and pay them a visit on Thursday in Chicago, that they’ll see the error of their ways and do the right thing from this point on.

Q: This is neither a Republican or Democratic issue, but a universal issue, yet certain right-wing press comes out and, not surprisingly, and wants to bash your movie. Why is the right wing press after you? It doesn’t make sense. You've made a movie that’s universal. Everybody is angry at healthcare.

MM: Most Americans, conservatives and liberals, would say those nine million children that go uninsured in this country, we should at least say that children have a right to see a doctor and not have to worry about paying for it. I think I’d find agreement on that across the entire political spectrum.

So why do those few remaining voices in support of the war and in support of Mr. Bush continue to attack me? They would attack me if I opened up a factory that produced American flags. And I spent the day promoting the sale. In fact, if I gave away a thousand American flags every day, they’d find some way to go after me.

If I didn’t exist, they would have to invent me. What else would they do on their talk radio and on their cable news? The right wing media, they already sound like dinosaurs and I think their days are numbered, in terms of how the American people are responding to them. I’ve read a lot of reviews of this movie. There’s literally one bad review of this movie—theirs! They must feel awfully lonely on this. I look at that and think will I ever catch a break with these people?

Q: Is it important?

MM: Is it important that I catch a break with them? I’m just like you. I want people to like me.

Q: You reportedly lost 30 pounds. You look great. When researching the failings of the health care system what inspired you? What else has inspired you?

MM: I have been waiting for US Weekly to ask me to do a spread. They have my number. While I was making this film, obviously I saw a lot of people who were sick and who were victims of our healthcare system. A number of them, I thought, probably could’ve avoided this broken system, had they changed a few things in terms of their lifestyle or their environment.

I started thinking about that and about myself. I began to think it was a little hypocritical to be making a health care documentary when I wasn’t taking care of my own health. I started to do a few things differently. I’m from the mid-west, guys like me, we don’t go on diets. We don’t do well in spinning classes. We should be smart enough to know that by eating a few fruits and vegetables everyday and going for a walk everyday, can’t be a bad thing.

So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve tried to alter a few of the things that I eat. Nothing big, nothing special. And I try to go for 30 minutes to an hour everyday for good brisk walk. In doing just that, I’ve dropped 30 pounds in three months. I’ve read this book. Actually Roger Ebert gave me this book and turned me on to this Pritikin program. I don’t know if you remember it or heard about it. And I’ll give you a basic essence of it if you want to hear about this. I’ll take 20 seconds and tell you the essence of the program.

Number one, you take 10,000 steps a day. You get a little pedometer and put it on your belt. Take 10,000 steps a day. Number two, eat 35 grams of fiber everyday. Eat foods that will give you 35 grams of fiber. Number three, get 7-8 hours sleep a night. If you do those three things, you’ll get yourself in decent shape.

The 35 grams of fiber is had by eating foods that are heavy in weight but low in calories. By eating foods that are heavy in weight, it fills up your stomach and you’re not hungry. It’s essentially like gastric bypass, except naturally. You fill up your stomach so there’s no room and there and your brain isn’t going, “Feed me.” So I eat baked potatoes for instance, or apples or oatmeal. Things like that, that are heavy in weight, but low in calorie. The thing is a baked potatoes is one hundred calories.

How many baked potatoes can you eat? If you get through the second one, you pretty much have to cut yourself off after two baked potatoes. A handful of Planters peanuts is 200 calories. So a handful of Planters peanuts, is that going to fill you up? No. Two baked potatoes, you’re full. And they’re both 200 calories. So that’s the Pritikin idea. The satiety method, of being satiated by eating oatmeal, apples, potatoes.

Has this helped anybody? I’m on a long road though. I got a long way to go. So we’ll see me next movie if I stuck to this. But geez, I feel 100 percent better. I encourage others to take care of themselves but you will not see the Michael Moore/Jane Fonda work-out tape any time soon.

Q: When people call you one sided and the propaganda, what do you say? Did the doctors in Cuba get advance notice that you were coming, so they put together a big show of advanced medical treatment which the average person would never get...

MM: Yeah, I get the question. Very quickly. We insisted we’ve been given the same treatment as they give their Cuban patients. So you see in the film, there are no private rooms. There’s three people to a room. There’s no curtains. It’s pretty spartan, what you would expect in a third world country.

Here’s a story I’ll tell you. Reggie Cervantes, one of the 9/11 rescue workers— the woman in the film—speaks Spanish. She had the same thought you had. Same question…not that she’s a Post reader. She worried about the same thing. Are they just doing this because Michael Moore is here? Cameras are present.

So one night, after I left with the cameras, without telling me, she snuck out of the hospital. Snuck out of her room, went downstairs, outside, came back in. pretending to be a Cuban, and she speaks Spanish, to see if the same procedures would happen. She said the same exact same happened, as when we had the cameras there. Check-in was, “Your name? Your date of birth? And what’s wrong with you?”, and they’d immediately took her to a screening room and started the procedures to take care of her, without knowing that she was already suppose to be upstairs. She said the next day, “I knew then, that the treatment we were getting was the real deal. And I felt so much better, having tested it myself without the cameras around.”

Q: In the movie you praised the Clinton health care initiative. In that program actually would’ve afforded HMO’s essential role.

MM: Yes...

Q: But they would’ve been heavily regulated. Are you suggesting that if HMOs are regulated, there can be a role for them?

MM: No. There should be no role for them. Private health insurance should be eliminated. I praised Hillary Clinton in the film for her initial efforts because she was the one that stuck her neck out. Her plan wasn’t the best plan but at least she was brave enough to say something should happen.

The HMOs now are going to wish that they supported Hillary’s plan, because she would’ve allowed them to continue. What I, and the nurses' unions, and millions of Americans are going to advocate for is their permanent removal from our healthcare system.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

OSCAR WATCH: Actress Angelina Jolie Speaks Straight From "A Mighty Heart"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

When "A Mighty Heart" was about to be released, some members of Angelina Jolie's camp decided to limit her press exposure. Since this film was about a courageous journalist who is kidnapped and beheaded by Al Quaeda members in Pakistan, the press had a bad reaction to efforts to control them through a restrictive release form—ironic for a story about a journalist's fatal effort to expose the secret world of the Islamist underground.

Daniel Pearl's widow, Mariane, had written her book documenting the events that led up to his death and surrounding it so that the world would know what she experienced. Yet, in order to hear the 32 year-old Jolie—who played Mariane—speak about this painful and provocative film, some journalists had to catch her at various limited special events.

One evening, Jolie was part of a panel with a three other cast members. Out of that discussion came this distillation of her thoughts on this powerful tale of the intersection between the political and personal. As she spoke lucidly about this film, it was obvious even then that she would be nominated for an Best Actress Oscar.

Q: You were told [by director Michael Winterbottom] to use the dialogue in the script as a guideline. What was that process like with the improvisation?

AJ: It was remarkable. It was just such a great way to work, especially for this film. We were all together. We never really left this house. We didn’t have trailers. We didn’t have places to go. We just lived on top of each other.

Michael had the right to come in and film whenever he wanted to, which meant you could go to the bathroom and he would follow you. It was this really open way and it went somewhat in order, so we were all together on the first day and he helped us all. Then the second day, Michael was gone. We were trying to figure out what happened. It flowed from there until the end, so it felt very organic. Then he showed up and it all became [obvious].

It was amazing…It took us all a while to trust ourselves. We all looked at each other and were very, very nervous. We didn’t know what we were doing and felt shy because it was such a new process.

Q: You did much of your own research. How much of the characterization needed to be created or was in the script?

AJ: It wasn’t as much in the script because these are real people. This really happened. We all did have the great fortune to meet them and the other people that knew them. I think our big concern was not to do a caricature of these amazing people, but to try to find out who they were and to know that this was such a heavy time in their lives. Probably the thing that they still lose sleep over and feel was, could I have done more? What was I doing at that time?

Remember vividly what that remaining thought was. So to honor them [we had] to find a way to be organically inside them and just not in any a way that would betray them. It was hard. So we got to know them and what was important to them.

As for Mariane, I did know so much of how much she loved her husband, how much she believes in dialogue and other people. So I guess what they believe in was more important than exactly what they sounded like or exactly what they dressed like.

Q: Was that hard, to not constantly keep that in mind? Was that inhibiting at all or were you able to put that aside and do what you needed to do? In the sense of representing these people?

AJ: I don’t think it ever left our minds—that was the hardest thing about doing it and wanting to make sure, should we be doing this? Are we going to be doing this right? Are we going to do this good enough? There’s a little five-year old boy who will one day see this. We talked about that often. This was going to be a way to have a window into how much his parents loved each other.

So our scenes were not just about let’s have a beautiful scene, or what would these characters do? It was, my God, one day, he’s going to see this and the love, and it’s so much more important than the movie right now.

Q: How did you deal with the script? Did you have the feeling of relying on the script or was it more of a foundation? Was it different with this movie and other movies you’ve done?

AJ: We all read the book. The foundation of all of this is Mariane and her voice. We read Danny’s journals and had gotten to know him. There’s so much research, and we went through the actual scene and interview and everything that was done. There’s so much information about this case, about that time, about these people.

So it was not a normal script. Not a normal film. More like a giant education for all of us—[to know] these people and this time, and the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], and FBI. All these things we were trying not to get lost in. But remember, the essence of the book is the essence of a very good script. And from there, we had a great director.

Q: That was the opposite of what they do in American cop shows. What was the most challenging aspect for you?

AJ: I suppose it was to have the guts to do it. I didn’t sleep the entire night before. I didn’t think I was worthy of playing her—didn’t know if I’d be capable of helping to tell the story as it should be told. I questioned myself through pretty much the whole thing. I had great support from people on this stage and and the director. Because [when] you know somebody, it’s that much harder. It comes from a different place. Suddenly it’s not about acting, it’s not technical. It’s just all very emotional.

Q: Would it have been easier if you weren’t improvising?

AJ: I think the improvising helped. The film itself helped bond us. Because we shot in order, we didn’t know each other at the beginning. And they didn’t know each other very well at the beginning. By the end, we connected. There’s something about the improvising that made us all feel—maybe we felt under the gun. Maybe we felt the pressure of the case, because we’d get thrown things, and things would come up on the computers, the phones would ring.

New information would come to all of us and then we’d have to discuss it. We’d have to remind each other where we were yesterday, and all of that were very much what they were doing. It helped keep us on our toes, and [was] very similar to how they must have felt.

Q: How close did the film stick to Mariane’s book?

AJ: I think very close. There’s so much we had to lose. We had to condense this whole time and this whole book into something very short, in two hours. But from what I understand from Mariane and the people that are close to her and true to the book, they all felt that the message was accurate and that the characters were represented. I think that they were all very happy with that because it seemed to be in such a short time, so much covered, and so many individual people covered and their part of the story.

Q: You knew Mariane a bit before you began shooting; how involved was she in the development and the production process of the film?

AJ: She was [from] early on… It took her a while to decide that maybe it could be a movie. I don’t think she watches movies. But she does believe in the message of [the film] and that was really the reason that she expressed that she wanted to do it. We did meet, together with Michael, to go through the script. Obviously, even that was difficult—just to sit with her and say, was this accurate? Did this happen here when you woke up this morning? So it was very difficult.

Then she came by the day before we all started shooting the wedding with Adam and the kids. She kind of wished us all luck [as to say] "I hope you all know and understand what the message is and why I wrote the book and who we all are." And then she disappeared and never showed up on set and never checked in, and had no vanity about any of this stuff. So it was almost worse. It was almost like she was saying, "I trust you." She’s got faith in us. We can’t screw this one up

Q: Were the people of Pakistan receptive in the making of this film?

AJ: I think it was difficult. I think both governments, even our government [didn't like it]…

Q: After participating in this film, has it informed, altered or supported your thoughts on our country's response to September 11?

AJ: On a bigger scale, on a more emotional scale, Mariane taught me. If somebody did that to the man in my life, I would immediately be so full of anger and hate that I wouldn't be able to do pretty much anything else but want revenge. I couldn't understand how somebody was able to go on camera days after and say, "10 other people died and they were all Pakistani. So they’re all suffering as much as we are." I thought, "How is that possible? Where does that [strength] come from?"

I realized since, that that ability to look at the broader view, to understand that we have to listen to each other, to continue to have dialogue. We have to find a way past [what happened]. We can’t be blinded by anger or fear. That’s not to say these are the political choices that are right or wrong. But that emotional point of view to say we’ve got to understand everybody’s suffering. We've got to understand everybody’s history. We've got to continue to have a dialogue, and we've got to find better ways to have solutions and not be irrational and not jump to hate.

Q: What she says about misery—that this exists where there’s misery. “Wherever there’s misery, they’ll find people.”

AJ: She speaks about poor people and uneducated people. People are vulnerable to ideological capture by extremist groups. They are without any kind of protection. They have no education, they have no food. And somebody says, go over here, and there’s lunch and come on over. That is one aspect of what’s happening in the world. That is a very real thing to address.

Q: Does it matter whether or not this film has commercial potential? Did you do this film as a personal choice [rather] than some other films, maybe other more commercial venues or TV projects?

AJ: The thing about this film is that we don’t have that much to recover [laughs]. It’s one of those projects that you get a chance to be involved in because it says something that you feel is important. It’s important right now, and obviously there are so many, many reasons to be involved and we all really lucky to get the chance.

OSCAR WATCH: Actress Catherine Deneuve and Daughter Chiara Mastroianni Enter Persepolis

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

Cartoonist Marjane Satrapi's extended graphic novel, "Persepolis," was remarkable in its humanness and candid retelling of her days as a kid in pre-Revolutionary Iran; the events around Ayatollah Khomeni's Islamic Revolution; of going to school in Europe; and of her eventual escape to France. But her adventure in graphic storytelling didn't end there. Satrapi joined forces with director/animator Vincent Paronnaud to transform her printed autobiography into an animated feature using line drawings--not fancy-dance 3-D computer-generated art.

In order to make her cartoon characters come alive, this duo enlisted legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve and daughter Chiara Mastroianni to provide the key voices of Marjane and her mother. Come alive they did, and as a result, the film was greeted with an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

This generational team provide a curious look into the dynamic between them and how much they enjoyed the opportunity to share their experience of working on an animated film. While they got an insight into the process of making animation, they offered an insight into the lives of a great actress (star of many international classics such as "Belle Du Jour," "The Last Metro," "The Hunger") and her 30-something daughter (who has starred in her share of films as well).

Q: Were you familiar with Marjane Satrapi's story?

CM: Very familiar. In France, her book is really well known. We both read the book.

CD: It was also [serialized] in a very famous newspaper {Liberation] for a long time. So I was really aware of the story.

Q: Did it ever occur to you that you'd be doing voices for this?

CD: No way. When I heard about the film I said it was a great idea, of course. But I haven't heard anything before I read the book.

Q: You've worked with every sort of director, what was different or similar to doing this animated feature, as opposed to playing a real character?

CM: I find that it's the same. The script was really written like a script for film. At times you forget that it would be animated. Also the fact that it's just a voice it is very interesting because you have a freedom physically that you have less when you're on screen.

Marjane directed you like she's directed actors all her life. She was very good at it and very good at acting as well. What happened was this... We recorded voices, different voices, not together. No actors were working together and she was playing all the characters. I wish we had some images from that because it was a really funny moment. And she was really good at it. It didn't feel very strange.

CD: I think it's different when you only do the voice because having the freedom of not being physically involved, [it's] just standing in front of the microphone in a dark room. In a way you have to get over it. I don't want to exaggerate things, but you really have to stylize what you are doing because you know it's going to be just with the voice.

CM: But still it's a true story and even if it's animated, it's very realistic. It's like she's playing a squirrel and I'm playing a duck...

CD: I'd love that [both laugh].

CM: Next time, next time. You know you don't fall into doing bizarre things. The acting itself, the way you talk, is exactly the same as you would talk on film. You don't have to invent a different voice.

CD: So that's it.

Q: What did you do to bring your characters to life—did you prepare?

CD: I didn't prepare.

CM: We don't prepare that much [laughs]. This is France, this is Europe...

CD: We prepare for films, but you just have to concentrate when you play the mother for Marjane in "Persepolis."

Q: What attracted you to doing this sort of film, as opposed to a live-action feature?

CD: I was very excited because I thought it was a very original project.

CM: It had been a long time that you had wanted to...

CD: Yes, I wanted to do a voice for years. An animation film for a long time, yes. My agent knew that so when he heard about the film, he told me about it. I just wanted to be involved. I think it's funny for actors to have to play a voice.

Q: What attracted you to the story?

CD: It was the whole project. I knew the book. When you know the story and you have been involved with it for a long time...I wanted to be part of it, that's it. That was really the major reason.

Q: One of the problems with animation is that you don't get to interact with the other actors, when making this film, did you talk about how the characters should act with one another?

CM: No, never. It's actually strange. When I saw the film finished, thats when I realized that we didn't act together. It struck me at the moment because when I saw it, I felt that everyone was really working together. That's so crazy.

CD: That's the miracle.

CM: It never crossed my mind that we didn't work together. I was in the studio alone with Marjane. You just have the feeling that it's a puzzle and everything went along really well.

CD: If you don't know it, you cannot think about it.

Q: You've both seen the finished product; are you satisfied?

CD: Yes, very much so. It was very moving, very political in a good way.

Q: What would you like this film to convey about the lives of women?

CD: Well I'm sure a lot of people have no idea what it must like to be in Iran, especially for women. The film says a lot. It's a political film. And it's an animation film. It can bring a different audience that only an animation film can bring. And I like that fact. The fact that it is very touching sometimes, but the film is quite funny.

CM: With the media nowadays, especially since September 11th, 2001, there's sort of a concept of these countries being scary. And no one tries to think about what other perspectives the country may represent. What I think Marjane wanted to show in this film, by talking about the everyday life of one little girl, is to get you in touch with the issues that are very important.

These are people just like you and me, they dance, they fall in love, they experience heartbreak [and the rest]. Through the media, there's always a story about a bomb that exploded and 3000 people [who were killed or hurt]... It's shocking but there's no reality to it. Of course it's shocking when you hear about it. People tend to forget.

Marjane was telling me that when she arrived in Europe, people were asking her whether he father drove a horse. It's all these preconceived ideas. She wanted to show in the film that there are human beings in the country and you have to forget about the other thought because it's scary. It's not always about Iran. The media always brings things out like a concept, but nothing beyond that.

Q: In America, the Oscars are such a big deal. What do you feel about awards; do you care about such things?

CD: I think it can be very different for European films. If you get an Oscar, you get a different kind of distribution, especially in the States.

Q: The reviews for "Persepolis" [have been] great. People are ecstatic about it. You [are] headed for Hollywood at least for that night.

CD: It would be wonderful if the film was chosen by Americans to represent France at the Oscars.

CM: "Persepolis" has been an adventure from the beginning. It was produced by two people--it's their first production. In the beginning, no one really believed--like "What? black and white?" [laughs] But little by little, the thing started to grow. Marjane and Vincent are like soldiers.

There's one thing that they are very proud of is that they made the film they wanted to make without compromise. What happened after making the film, going to Cannes, winning a prize, [getting nominated for an Oscar]all these fantastic things that happened, its like going to one adventure to another.

Three years ago when we started this project, would we imagine ourselves to be sitting here? It's a special experience. Until now it's been great. But we've been very lucky. Speculating on getting a prize and all that, we have to wait and see, we have to wait until [February]. "Persepolis"" has been chosen to represent France. But, me being Italian, I am a bit superstitious...

CD: I'm not superstitious; I think it would be a great thing for the distribution of the film. It would be great...

CM: I'm not saying that I don't want it to happen...

CD: You're just saying you don't want to talk about it happening, because you're superstitious...

CM: Yeah and I don't want to pick a dress now [both laugh].

Q: Loving movies so much, were you ever tempted to move to Hollywood at all?

CD: No, because nothing ever was proposed that was interesting enough. I think it would have been difficult to move in Hollywood. I wasn't going to go to move and get a part that was less interesting, into an English speaking film, than what I would be offered in Europe.

Q: Have you ever thought of moving here?

CM: Well I wish it would be possible to work here without moving here. I love cinema, but I don't think moving...but when I read a script, I don't look if its Italian, American, or French, I just see if it relates to me. And then I would want to do it. Very rarely I had opportunities to work in America, in independent films, produced by the French. I don't have an experience of Hollywood of all. I would love to, but you have to be realistic about it.

CD: Yes, if you are not an English-speaking actress, it is very rare to see a European actress in an American film.

Q: A lot of the directors you've worked with defined certain styles. Of the people you've worked with, who influenced you in your acting?

CD: It was not a question for me about how I changed my acting, it was more about growing. Growing. I started to do films very young. The fact that I've met Jacques Demy at a very early age, I've learned things with him. I wouldn't say I've changed my mind. At the time I was very young, I was involving and learning at the same time. I haven't changed much since I was 18 or 20--as a movie goer.

Q: Who were your favorite directors that you've worked with?

CD: I've done different films with Arnaud Desplechin and I am actually working with him on a project [that's coming out this year, "Un conte de Noël"]. I feel very [strongly about] with him. I think we are always going on doing something together, [we're always] digging in the same direction.

CM: I think Arnaud Desplechin was very important to me because I was looking to meet him when I first started. So he's someone very important to me too. I like people who have a very personal point of view and just brings you into his own world. I would say definitely that Arnaud for me is the "captain of the boat."

Q: What is that difference between Hollwood and Europe in the way they make movies?

CD: I'm not sure. I don't have that much experience in Hollywood to compare. I think the difference is, that in America, the producer is almost as important as the director in making the film. And it can be not so good for the film. I find that having the director completely alone to do exactly what he wanted, can be good.

There are advantages in making films in America, with many people working on the script, having many people to help direct... Sometimes the result is too conventional, but sometimes the result is wonderful. I think personal films are interesting, [having] the personal view of the director. But sometimes I also think a film suffers without the producer's influence, without more concentration on production. So it's always a mix of both.

Q: Do you want to help upcoming actors or directors, maybe produce in the future?

CD: No, no I'm not there to help. When I do a film, I do it because I think the story is interesting. I don't want to take a chance of working with someone I don't know. It's not a matter of help. I love cinema, and I want to take opportunities to make a story come onto screen. I don't like the idea of taking a project just because "it would be good for them."

CM: You're talking about production, and that's something that happens more over here, rather than France. The production aspect in France, there are many actors becoming directors, but its not like here.

Q: Have you ever visited Iran in your career?

CD: No, not yet. And I don't think it's going to be anytime soon before I can go there [laughs].

Q: I don't think anyone can go there.

CM: Well going there [isn't the problem]. It's coming back that can be a problem.

CD: No, I think you can go but be aware of so many things you cannot do or say, or what.

Q: Is there a place in the world where you wouldn't be recognized?

CD: That would be something very appealing [laughs]. It reminds me of when I went to Vietnam for the first time. I felt something very special walking in the street, with no one knowing you; they've never seen a European or French film.

OSCAR WATCH: Actress Keira Knightley Makes the Most of "Atonement"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

What a remarkable career choice for 23 year old Kiera Knightley, playing the ethereal, sexy upper-crust ingenue Cecilia Tallis who is in love with the working class lawyer-to-be Robbie Turner (James McAvoy). As they start an affair with a hot tryst against a bookcase in her parents' country house, it becomes doomed, both by her jealous younger sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan) and the advent of World War II.

Though the film seems like a great romantic tragedy, it's about much more and director Joe Wright does his best to make Ian McEwan's book work on screen.

Knightley—daughter of actor Will Knightley and playwright Sharman Macdonald—got her first role at nine in Moira Armstrong's lesbian tale, "A Village Affair." Since then she has made some pretty uncanny moves for someone so young starting in 1999 with being Queen Amidala's (Natalie Portman) decoy in "Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace." Then she played the tomboy footballer Jules Paxton in "Bend It Like Beckham" which really put her in the public eye (with a few spicy roles in films like "Silk" and "Domino" along the way). But it's been her roles in such forceful blockbusters as the "Pirates of the Carribean" trilogy and "Pride and Prejudice" that have led to "Atonement" and its Oscar nominations for everything from Best Picture to Best Adapted Screenplay.

Q; What do you say about the chemistry between you and James? He has spoken about it...

KK: [Laughs] Well I know what his comments are, and I agree with it. I should imagine that he said something along the lines of "it’s our job, acting" [laughs].

Q: Sort of, yeah… but he did say more.

KK: And it is. I think it was a fantastic script, a great director. We really got on. I think he’s a sensational actor. Working with him was really, really exciting. I think as far as chemistry goes, you can have the best actors together—and in fact, they can be in love with each other—and for some reason you won’t have chemistry on the screen.

I don’t think anyone ever knows what makes that final bit of chemistry work. If they did, then you’d make sure you worked with people like that all the time. I think that obviously it helped that we got on. Obviously, the script is fantastic. So maybe that’s the answer, but actually I don’t know.

Q: Did it help having worked with director Joe Wright before on "Pride and Prejudice?" You got an Oscar nom for that.

KK: Yeah. I love working with Joe. I loved him the moment I met him. I think chemistry between actors is very rare, and I think chemistry between actor and director is even more rare. We have really good creative chemistry for some reason. I don’t know why. We speak the same language.

You know, acting is all about emotions. Everybody intrinsically has the same emotions, but we describe them differently. Sometimes on the set, that can feel literally like a language barrier. With Joe… we describe emotions the same, so we kind of had our own language. We just hoped we understood, that I understood, what he wanted, which is always helpful.

Q: Early in the film Cecilia was kind of icy; was it hard getting into her mindset?

KK: I never saw her like that. I mean, yes, yes, she is. But I never saw her like that. I always completely understood it. I think that’s why I fell in love with her from the moment I read the script. It was because I saw her so clearly. I think that very often in film you have characters that are black or white. What’s fascinating about her is she’s probably a very good person, but she’s behaving like a bitch. I think we all do. I think you very rarely see that. I just love the different layers of her. I think the fact that in the book it completely describes how she’s feeling. It describes that long, hot, sticky day that’s completely airless. And that need for a cigarette that’s making her even more on edge. I found her totally fascinating.

Q: What was the hardest scene to shoot?

KK: I don’t know. We’ve been asked that a lot and I don’t know if "hard" is the right word. I think every film is always challenging, and should be. But because of this three weeks’ rehearsal we had, we were all so prepared. I wouldn’t say that anything that stuck out in my mind as being particularly difficult.

The one that I loved doing, found challenging and really exciting, was the Swallows teashop scene. That was actually one of my favorites when I read the script. It’s partly because what they both want to do is sort of pour out into this melodramatic… you know, they want to say everything, but they can’t.

So it was a really interesting process of trying to think about all the things that wanted to be bursting out and then repress that—which was actually what we were doing in the whole of the film, really. Because it’s all about what’s not said as opposed to what is said. But in that one, it was fabulous to keep that balance between being too melodramatic and too overemotional and keeping it in check.

Q: What was it like working with the precocious Saiorse Ronan?

KK: Yeah, she’s amazing. She is 12 and got this thick Irish accent. [Then] she comes out and she’s got this pitch perfect 1940’s British accent. I think what’s incredible with Saiorse [is] that’s not taught. That’s not taught. So where does that talent come from? It’s just… it is extraordinary. People keep on saying ‘What advice are you giving her?" I would never dream of giving Saiorse Ronan advice. I’ll take advice from her, but I certainly won’t give it.

Q: Did you read the book "Atonement" before you did the movie?

KK: I read the book, yes. I read the script first, but then I read the book as soon as had said yes to it. It was a fantastic blueprint.

Q: Did you talk to author Ian McEwan about it?

KK: Well, no, not before. He actually came on set a couple of times. He was very nice. Then at the London premiere he came up to me and said ‘It’s interesting. It works so well, but you played it so differently than I’d written it.’ And I thought, no I didn’t, I played it exactly… It’s really funny. I think that’s what’s wonderful about the characters, people have such different ways of seeing them. I obviously saw it differently than Ian McEwan saw it.

Q: What research went into make Cecilia so elegant, so gorgeous, with all those Bette Davis poses? Did you look at films from that glamorous period?

KK: I did. It wasn’t Bette Davis, though. Well, it was always a bit of Bette Davis, but it was Greta Garbo quite a lot—with the smoking thing—and Marlene Dietrich. And Katherine Hepburn, because I always go back to Katherine Hepburn. I love that quality that she’s got. But the real main inspiration for this was Celia Johnson, from "Brief Encounter." I watched it just on a loop for about two months and actually would be very happy to watch it on a loop forever.

As a cast, we all watched a lot of David Lean and Noel Coward and those collaborations, which we served, and then "Brief Encounter." We watched a lot of news footage from that time as well. The accent is such a specific thing and it’s completely lost to my generation – the British sort of 1940s stiff upper lip. It was the height of the stiff upper lip, really. We all wanted to watch it together so that everyone was on the same page. I think it wouldn’t have worked if one person hadn’t done it. We did a lot of research into the accent and finding exactly what we wanted and what part of it we didn’t.

Q: What movies did you watch to prepare for the film?

KK: Those ones, actually.

Q: What are some of your favorites from this year?

KK: Of this year? I just saw "Michael Clayton," which I thought was wonderful. Tilda Swinton was unbelievable in that; all the performances were great. I really loved "Into the Wild." I thought that was a very inspirational film. Actually, the DOP [director of photography] for that one, who also did "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints," is one of my favorite. I thought, [for] a first-time writer/director, I thought that was wonderful. Chazz Palmenteri, the guy that plays the dad… oh my God, that scene with him and Shia LaBoeuf in the bath—just amazing. Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose"—I think that is one of the most extraordinary performances I’ve ever seen.

Q: And what about those from the period of this film?

KK: "Casablanca"—that’s just one that’s got to be. "All About Eve" [laughs]. Again, "For Which We Serve," and my favorite has to be "Brief Encounter." Is it Rachmaninoff that they play? What is it they play? It’s not Rachmaninoff, it’s something else. There is a piece of music – the only piece of music that they play all the way through – and it’s just brilliant. There are lots of films that I like. (laughs)

Q: You seem to like do projects based on historical periods, and the chance to wear costumes. Do you have a fascination with history?

KK: I’ve always liked history. I’ve always been fascinated by it. It’s not particularly that I’m going I want to do things that are historical. It’s simply been the stories that have interested me. You know, if I find a contemporary story that interests me I’ll certainly do that as well. For some reason or another, the female parts… There are always much fewer good roles for actresses than there are for actors.

Most of them that I’ve read indeed have simply been period pieces as opposed to contemporary pieces. It goes in swings. It will come; there will be a point when stuff that is interesting is contemporary, as well. But, I haven’t so far [laughs].

Q: You have played some of the greatest female characters—and you get to be a pirate. Elizabeth Bennett is an icon. How do you get away with that?

KK: I was auditioning for lots of different roles and they were the ones that they offered me. So, I have no answer for that. I’ve [just] been very lucky. I was very lucky with a lot of them, that they just happened to be the ones that I got.

Q: Is it an important thing to do though, that you can stick up for people?

KK: I think as a woman what I’m interested in is seeing interesting female roles onscreen. I’m not interested really in seeing women that are very much the secondary, token woman… which there always are, and that’s fair enough. But as far as being a cinema-goer, I’m excited when I see female roles that have a bit of different layers to them. That can be something inspiring. I think that’s important.

Q: The third part of "Pirates of the Caribbean" has come out on DVD. The series was planned as a trilogy, but they left it open for the possibility of more. Can you see doing that?

KK: I can’t imagine doing another one. That was an amazing experience. It really was, totally extraordinary. But no, I think three for me is probably enough [laughs].

Q: What other films are you working on or have coming up?

KK: I’ve just finished one called "The Duchess," which is based on part of the life of the Duchess of Devonshire, who was a political hostess in the 1780s. I’ve just done that with Ralph Fiennes and Charlotte Rampling.

Before that I was working on a film that my mum’s written about Dylan Thomas and a group of friends that surrounded him—and an act of violence that happened and the circumstances that led to the act of violence. That was with Cillian Murphy, Sienna Miller and Matthew Rhys.

OSCAR WATCH: Documentarian Alex Gibney Rides The "Taxi to The Dark Side"

Feature Interview By Brad Balfour

Having previously made "The Trials of Henry Kissinger" and "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," documentary director Alex Gibney has become an expert on people with power corrupted by power and abusing their power.

But few films resonate like “Taxi to the Dark Side”—a prize-winner at last spring's Tribeca Film Festival—a further exploration of the abuse of power. Certainly it has inspired enough reaction that it has garnered an Oscar nom for Best Feature Doc. But this isn't Gibney's first stab at the Golden Statue; a couple of years ago, he was nominated for his Enron feature as well. Through his own company Jigsaw, Gibney has produced several other award-winning productions, including Martin Scorsese’s Emmy and Grammy-award winning multi-part TV series “The Blues." And Gibney's upcoming release "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson," features Johnny Depp, another Oscar nominee this year (for Best Actor in "Sweeney Todd").

"Taxi's" kick-off point—the story of late Afghani taxi driver Dilawar (who was arrested for driving around some Taliban members, and then tortured to death) and of the guards who beat him—sets in motion a contorted ride that leads through Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, the White House and Congress. Ultimately, we see who was responsible for a run-amuck policy that sanctions the torturing of prisoners in the War on Terror. Along the way, American ideals and virtues get dumped alongside the road.

Q: In “Taxi to the Dark Side,” the prisoners that are interrogated, including Dilawar—the Afghan cab driver who was beaten to death while in custody in Bagram prison—were generally innocent of any crimes.

AG: That becomes the big problem. When you have a system where there are coercive interrogation techniques, it's most effective at getting false confessions. Some people think it's a joke. But I went for my vacation over New Year's to Bangkok and Cambodia. In Phnom Penh, I went to the Khmer Rouge Genocide Museum.

As I was passing through the museum, it struck me that after I'd seen all the faces of the people who had been ruthlessly interrogated and confessed to horrible crimes before they were murdered, I noticed that there in the corner was a waterboard. Waterboarding was the key method used by the Khmer Rouge to obtain false confessions. Everybody is guilty when a waterboard is employed.

A lot of people who have been picked up in the War on Terror are innocent. I'll tell you what I find astounding. If you do a deep history of some of these interrogation techniques—temperature extremes, sensory deprivation, forced standing, sleep deprivation—you'll learn that some of the techniques were used by the Chinese against our soldiers in the Korean War to achieve some kind of brainwashing, so our soldiers would suddenly say, "I believe in the rectitude of the Communist cause."

So it was those techniques that made their way into the CIA's KUBARK Interrogation Manual and the SERE schools—the Survival-Evasion-Resistance-Escape schools where we teach our soldiers to resist horrible people when they get captured overseas. But all those techniques we use were designed not to get good intelligence, but to get people to falsely confess for propaganda purposes.

Q: How did you feel sitting there and interviewing the guards who had killed Dilawar?

AG: Initially I had trepidation, because I was kind of angry. I'd read Tim Golden in the New York Times, and one of the things about the Dilawar case that made me want to do the movie was that it was a five-day interrogation— although after day three the interrogators were pretty much convinced that he was innocent. But they tortured him for another two days until he died.

So I looked at these guy and thought, "What kind of people are you?" But after spending a good bit of time with them and being somewhat nervous myself about talking to them, I found myself having tremendous sympathy for them in a way that I didn’t initially suspect. So much so that in one of the cuts of the film, we went almost too far in portraying them sympathetically. So we put back some detail of the cruel things that they did, so that it was clear that I wasn't saying they were victims, too.

Q: Do you believe that if you put any bunch of soldiers to guard prisoners-—and give them no instructions—they will act exactly as these guards did? Does this administration believe this?

AG: I'm not sure what the higher-ups' intention was, but we know they exerted tremendous pressure on the guards even while removing restrictions. That should have told them something. I think they knew to some extent what they were going to get from these men. Philip Zimbardo did the Stanford prison experiment, and the volunteers who became guards did act rudely and the volunteers who were prisoners became very defensive. But I think people have the will to resist that stuff.

Q: But these were untrained guys.

AG: Totally untrained kids, who were put into a situation and told that the gloves were off and they could do what they needed to do to get results. They don't speak the language, they don't have any cultural training, they don't have any understanding about the difference between a Pashto and Farsi speaker. And they're told to produce and are criticized if they seem too lenient.

Q: Did any of the soldiers you spoke to explain what they were fighting for in Iraq—or Afghanistan, for that matter?

AG: Many were gung-ho after 9/11 and wanted to kick some ass. Today a lot of them are deeply-scarred people because they were asked to do things they don't feel so good about. I talked to people who were disillusioned. I'm sure there are some who aren't, but most I talked to were. Almost all of them felt let down by the civilian administration. There were a lot of Marines and other soldiers who felt they always were being misdirected by the civilian administration.

Q: What was the challenge in bringing together the many elements of your film?

AG: It was a real challenge. It was very hard. After making "Enron," I thought, "Not again!" I didn't know I'd come across another story that is so complex and intricate that it's going to give me nightmares every night trying to find a structure. To some extent, that was one of the reasons I chose the Dilawar story. I chose that story for a number of reasons, but one of them was that I could follow the ripples of his murder out of Bagram, as his interrogators move on to Abu Ghraib and the passengers in his cab are sent to Guantanamo.

The way they were sent to Guantanamo is the perfect example for how many people were sent there, we've now learned. They weren't the worst of the worst. They were people sent there for bounty or, in the case of Dilawar's passengers, to cover up the fact that we murdered an innocent man. We sent them over and people are supposed to think they were all part of a cabal. These peanut farmers spent 18 months in Guantanamo.

As we were weaving this structure and trying to keep the Dilawar story going, there were key aspects of the larger issues that had to be reckoned with, like the whole "ticking time bomb" scenario and the differences between Torture Lite and the brutal torture that was inflicted on Dilawar. Even liberal-minded people I know get seduced by that ticking-time-bomb scenario in a way that I find appalling. All of these issues come up in the movie, so it took a long, long time to get the structure right.

Finally, on a dramatic level, we didn't really get it right until the end. We'd somehow done an update on the guards' stories far too early in the film, and when viewers saw that they felt they were done with the movie. So we took their stories and put them close to the end, to just before Bush effectively pardons himself. That seemed to be kind of a resolution, where we could tie up all the threads and the emotional Dilawar story, where we return to his family, comes full circle. It was very hard to get that narrative right, but I think we got it.

From the beginning I wanted to tell the Dilawar story and the story of the guards. My editor, Sloane Klevin, and I had some conflict on this. Early on, I went to Guantanamo. That was an interesting trip. We filmed it in a different way than most crews who have been allowed to film down there. I took it to be a dog and pony show so that's how we filmed it. That was a lot of colorful and lively footage. Meanwhile we had the testimony of only one or two of the Bagram guards. So our tension early on was about whether we'd keep the structure.

There was a huge Guantanamo section that we later broke up into two Guantamo sections, and made that work with the Dilawar narrative. One decision proved valuable. The film was mostly shot by two people: Greg Andracke and Maryse Alberti, who also shot "Enron." We tried to figure out a visual scheme for this film, knowing that we'd shoot hither and yon and she wouldn't always be there.

I made the decision that all the Bagram people would be shot in the same way. So we painted a backdrop that I carried with me everywhere, whether it was to Birmingham, England, Columbus, Ohio, Washington, D.C. And every time we filmed someone who had been to Bagram we filmed him against that background and lit him in the same way. It gets complicated knowing who all the people are, but if you see them in front of that background, you know instantly they were in that prison. Also it was a visual scheme that kind of represented the prison and gave it a visual coherence and structure that helps the film's narrative.

Q: You're a film noir fan, so did you borrow from that for those darkly lit prison scenes?

AG: Well, yeah, there's the light and dark, good and evil, but I didn't want to overplay it. There's something about it being a dark prison and being lit straight down the middle that I thought was effective.

Q: Once you had the footage, how long did the editing take?

AG: The fact is, the shooting and editing happened simultaneously. We didn't go out and collect and say, we had enough now. There was some sense of urgency with the story because it seemed so timely. Nevertheless, the investors and my father, who died while I was making the film, kept saying "hurry up."

As we were going, we were finding new material and getting new and interesting people to come forward to talk. Then that footage would have to be integrated into the narrative. It was the same thing that happened with "Enron." The woman who was very close to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling didn't agree to be interviewed until very late, and we had to completely change the structure to accommodate her. It always happens. In this film, the trip to Afghanistan didn't happen till very late, partially for safety reasons.

The first time we were set to go, my cameraman chickened out because there were riots in Kabal and people were being killed. Some of the photos of Bagram, which had never been seen publicly by anyone, came in very late in the game. That suddenly gave us a visual representation of Bagram, which was so important. I can't tell you where I got them, but we kept following different people and asking, and finally somebody came forward and said, "Here they are."

We knew something was there because some of those photographs had surfaced. But we hadn't gotten the autopsy photos of Dilawar or photos of the isolation cells or holding pens, the so-called air-locks. Getting them was big. And from the same source, we got the videotape of the JAG officer confirming that these things were de facto policies.

Q: When did you know the film was done?

AG: Oh, I don't know. What do they say, "Films don't get finished, they get abandoned." We were racing to finish it to get it released and it was too long, too long, always too long. I think once we moved the soldiers to the end, we thought that it felt right. We did some final trimming and we were done.

Q: Your father's experiences as a Naval interrogator during WWII influenced you to make this movie.

AG: That was big. He was the person who really pushed me to do it. There were other people who came forward and said, "Look, we're angry about the subject. If we raise the money, will you do it?" I was thinking about it and it was a tough call. But I was talking to him and he was very upset about the issue of the harsh torture being used in the war on terrorism and really encouraged me to make the movie. It had been a very formative experience for him.

Back then, his eyesight was too bad, so he couldn't go into the Marines. He was sent to the Navy's language school and learned Japanese, and then he was sent out to the Pacific theater to interrogate Japanese prisoners, first at Pearl Harbor and then in Okinawa. So he was interrogating them much like the people at Abu Ghraib, right in the heat of one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Looking back, it never occurred to him to even think about using some of the techniques that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were all blithely thinking about using this time.

There already had been reports of Japanese atrocities toward American and British prisoners, but he felt that as an American he represented a higher ideal. I'm not suggesting that being an interrogator is all about being nice. But once you take them out of the war-time paradigm, the prisoners are gone, so now instead of the interrogator and prisoner relating to each other as enemies they can relate to each other as human beings.

Out of that human relationship comes a certain trust, and then the disclosure of information. Most skilled interrogators like my father and Jack Cloonan, the former FBI agent in the movie, feel they get that even when dealing with tough, ruthless prisoners. He was really pissed off when he discovered some of this stuff happening today. So the film became very important to me.

Q: How much of the movie did your father see before he died?

AG: I don't think he saw any cuts of the film. He only heard me talk to him about how the movie was going.

Q: Why did you decide to put the footage of him expressing his opinion on the use of torture today in the final credits rather than in the film itself?

AG: It was a decision made when the structure was already in place. Even so, I was a bit nervous about using the footage. I loved it, but I didn't want anybody to feel I was forcing this footage of someone who had recently died into the film. I said I couldn't be objective about it, so I had my colleagues in the editing room look at it and tell me if it made sense and worked. If I'd do it over again, perhaps I'd have structured it differently, but at that time it seemed right to give him the last word in the dedication, where he appears and actually speaks.

Q: You did a good job as narrator. Was there any trepidation about doing it?

AG: I couldn't afford anybody else. I only did it because my dad is in the film. At that point it became personal, so I thought it would be okay. It just made sense. I wrote the narration slightly differently as a result. My narration is pretty objective, but when I changed it for my voice it allowed me to be a little bit angled. There was a certain amount of nervousness, not only on my part but also on the part of my editor. But she was happy enough with it.

Q: Is there anything you regretted leaving out of the film?

AG: I wish I'd put more of the SERE school in, but at some point the film become unwieldy and I had to trim it. At one point the film had a certain amount of black humor in it. We learned that a hunger-strike at Guantanamo was being broken through the use of these mysterious restraint chairs that immobilized prisoners so they could force-feed them. We learned that these chairs had been discovered by an enterprising person at Guantanamo who found a website called, and there was a sheriff in Denison, Iowa, who was manufacturing them, to momentarily restrain people on crack until they could be calmed down.

So I went out to visit this sheriff and his lovely wife, Pam, who was dressed in a way that was color-coordinated with the chair and she sat in it and they demonstrated the chair. It was in the film, but parts had to be cut for the better good of the whole. Losing the SERE school was harder, because that's where the administration is getting some of its harsh interrogation techniques. They were taking techniques used for defense by trainees and turning them into offense.

Q: Were there people you tried to interview but couldn't?

AG: John McCain was one. I tried very hard. I wrote him several times. To some extent, when you're dealing with the political establishment, being an independent documentarian is not very advantageous. If you're from CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, or Fox, they'll give you the interview, no problem. But if you're an independent, that's trouble. So for whatever reason, McCain ran away from us. I hope some day he'll see the film.

Q: The most frightening images in the film are of Congress giving Bush standing ovations when he says he'll treat prisoners harshly—would you agree?

AG: I agree with you. It happens twice, and I think those are two most frightening images in the movie and I put them in for that purpose. Because both times, both sides of the aisle rise as one. The second time, when Bush says that one by one by one terrorists will learn the meaning of American justice, you even see John Kerry applauding a little. Congress utterly abdicated its responsibility. If you go back to Cheney's minority report on Iran-Contra, he says he always believed strongly in executive power. He made no secret about it. We have all the power, therefore we now have the opportunity to exert our values on the world.

Q: What do you think about our new attorney general, Michael MuKasey, and his new independent investigation about the destruction of CIA video tapes that recorded the torture of prisoners.

AG: I don't know what to think. He could have appointed a special prosecutor, but he didn't do it. So it's too early to tell. The jury is really out on MuKasey. Speaking about Congress, I’m so disappointed in two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Charlie Schumer, for just rolling over and allowing for his confirmation. When a guy won't say that waterboarding is illegal, it's shocking.

Q: What do you think will happen in the future in regard to America and the use of torture in the war on terror?

AG: My view is that we can't go forward unless we reckon with the past. In other words, we need to hold some people to account or we can't really go forward and hold our heads high. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, John Yoo, David Addington, and others. I'm not saying they're guilty, but let's have a prosecutor look at it and decide. In some shape and store, we have to roll back some of the crazy laws we have enacted, but we need to deal with the past before moving on.

That's the one thing that scares me a little about Barack Obama. While I really applaud his ideas on inclusion and that he's willing to be critical but at the same time unify everybody, you also don't want to sweep crimes under the rug—because they have a peculiar way of coming back to haunt you.

Q: You said that you don't say they're guilty, but doesn't your film say they are?

AG: I mean guilty in a legal sense [but], I'm not a judge and jury. I can try them in the court of public opinion, and as far as I'm concerned they're guilty.

Q: Back in the Nixon days your phone would be tapped and you'd be in some secret government file.

AG: I’m sure my phone is tapped. I'm not kidding. George McGovern called for the impeachment of Bush and Chaney and said, "Next to these guys, Nixon was nothing."