Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why We Fight, film, rating PG-13, Interview with Director, Eugene Jarecki

Why We Fight Rating PG-13
A Q&A With 'Why We Fight' Director Eugene Jarecki by Kevin Polowy

Though his riveting new documentary 'Why We Fight' takes an uncompromising look at the Iraq War, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki wanted to distance himself -- and his film -- from the constituency of unabashedly left-leaning works meant to rally the electorate in 2004 ('Fahrenheit 9/11,' anyone?). Debuting at last year's Sundance Film Festival, where it won the documentary competition's Grand Jury Prize, the film has since taken a buzz-generating tour of the 2005 fest circuit. The passing of time has made it no less topical, given America's increasing ambivalence about the Iraq quagmire. Looking at Dwight Eisenhower's prophetic farewell speech in which he warned that continuing to pump up U.S. defense funds without the American people's vigilance would result in the military-industrial complex running rampant, Jarecki ('The Trials of Henry Kissinger') examines the current war by canvassing politicians, pundits, bomb-dropping pilots and everyday people for answers to a fundamental question: Why does America go to war? We enlisted Jarecki for a few questions of our own, as 'Why We Fight' invades theaters.

Moviefone: Have you long been fascinated with war and peace and the fact that our country is so often involved in the former?

Eugene Jarecki: Yeah, I think it's natural for any artist living in a time of war to ask himself why we're doing what we're doing in any given time, and the movie takes its title from films made by Frank Capra during World War II. Capra was asked by the military at that time to make a series of films exploring America's reasons for entering World War II. And I thought it was natural, given that we're living in a new time of war, to ask that same question, understanding that to a very large extent the reasons may have changed. And the reasons that everyday Americans perceive for why we fight wars have shifted. The waters I think have become far muddier.

MF: Do you consider yourself a pacifist?

EJ: Wouldn't everybody consider themselves (pacifists)? Wouldn't everybody prefer peaceful resolutions of problems to violent resolutions of problems?

MF: But if everyone considered themselves pacifists then maybe we wouldn't be engaged in war in Iraq.

EJ: I don't know that that's true. I think that puts blame at the foot of people who probably think they're doing the best they can. Many of the people we talked to up and down the chain of command, they don't think, "I kill people for a living." They think, "I wield force because without that wielding of force worse things will happen." Now whether they're right or wrong may be a subject of debate, and whether they were right or wrong to think that the Iraq War was a worthwhile gamble, or that kind of thinking, is worthy of debate. But that's what their inner thinking is telling them. They're not going through life thinking "I like war." They're actually going through life thinking, "If I drop two bombs on a Monday it might prevent other bombs from blowing up on a Tuesday." And there have been times in history where that was probably a defensible way of thinking. I would say obviously all of those people, in a world where it's possible to be so, would be pacifists. The problem is that the world we're living in is very much through the looking glass. We are past the point of no return on a lot of ways that the world is run, and it is increasingly run by a smaller and smaller handful of figures and elite corporations who are making those decisions about when it's necessary to use force without democrat consensus and without a democratic process. And that's what I think the film is chiefly concerned with.

MF: There's also the belief that we're liberating people when we go to war.

EJ: There's two sides to this liberation thing. I think on the one side many of the people who say we're going over there to liberate those people probably believe it. And some of those people have traveled to those places and understand their inner workings, and some of those people haven't. And really these are all opinions that are welcome in a democratic process. The goal is not to replace one form of autocratic thinking with another; it's not the idea to say "All those people who think we fight for freedom are wrong and should be replaced by people who think we fight for money." No, there's a mix of things going on, and the problem is that Americans need to be more aware of what the mix is so that they themselves can be more engaged in the decision-making process, so that it isn't the case that fewer and fewer people are making these decisions.

MF: In the film it seems you've strived for bipartisan representation. How did you approach that? Was it a very conscious goal of yours?

EJ: I think what's happening in the world is of common concern to all of us, and a film would be inappropriate if it didn't recognize the viewpoints from a range of thinkers across the political spectrum, and people would leave the theater thinking, "That was kind of one-sided job. I feel a little conned." And so my job in making the film was to make sure that everyone in the audience sees their viewpoint not only represented, but represented responsibly and thoroughly. So they don't walk out thinking some part of the argument was left on the table and they wish they'd heard a rebuttal on that thing.

MF: Do you think the film is outwardly critical of the current war?

EJ: I think the film looks very carefully at American war-making since World War II, and does pay special attention to the current war as it's unfolding. It would be hard to look carefully at the current war without being led to be critical. Unfortunately that is the natural outcome of looking too carefully at this war.

MF: Have you received, or do you expect to receive, any criticism from the Right for that kind of approach?
EJ: I haven't received any criticism from the Right at the moment because I think the Right, like everybody else, is scratching its head about what to do about this obviously tragic event that's unfolded. The friends of this administration as well as its adversaries are now in agreement at least on the clear fact that the situation is grave, not as it was advertised, and we're in something far deeper than anybody expected. That's even been acknowledged by people within the administration. So I think what we tried to do is make sure that representatives of the policy that got us into this war, Richard Perle to William Kristol, to others within what you call the Right, are in the film, and that their viewpoints of why they thought this was a good idea are well represented. And they have the right to change their views. The tragedy of course is that while a number of them have started to sort of step back and ask second questions about this, so many have died. And we've found ourselves in such an unpredictable and now unfolding tragedy. So that's an internal debate within the Right among those who advocated the war. But there were people all over the political spectrum in the United States who advocated the war. The copyright on war is not owned by Republicans in America. We have had as many wars run by Democrats as by Republicans. Democrats and Republicans are recipients of benefits from the defense sector rather equally. And it's not my view that one administration or another is to be faulted for a particular inclination toward war-making. But any administration can be taken at a given point in time and used as a kind of picture to look at to think more deeply about just why we're doing what we're doing, what its doing to others, and ultimately, what that's doing to us.

MF: Oftentimes you'll hear that the filmmakers of politically charged documentaries -- 'Fahrenheit 9/11' being a prime example -- are just "preaching to the choir." How do you combat that, and lure a broader audience?

EJ: Well, that's not the nature of the film. The film is quite dominated by Republicans, so there's been some concern that it will be seen as some center-Republican film. We didn't make it that way. We made it to be balanced, with people contributing from across the aisle, from across the political spectrum of the United States. So part of the way I hope the film will reach people is simply by reflecting people across the board and so nobody will feel excluded. Everybody feels that some part of their own experience, or their understanding, is represented on screen. And it may be set against understandings opposite to theirs, but that's healthy. That's part of a healthy dialogue we hope to see in an open society.

MF: Do you think the film answers its own question, "Why do we fight?"

EJ: I don't think the question is simple enough that a single film can answer it. And I think that if it did propose an answer people would leave the theater thinking, "That's a little too neatly tied up in a bow." So I think what it hopefully does is raise questions, propose a range of possible answers, all of which are probably partially true, but leave the viewer to come up with what mix of answers really seems like it reflects their sense of the world they're living in. Because what we're trying to do is inspire people to look at this question deeply on their own terms. Not on my terms, not on anybody in the film's turns. But as a kind of inspiration that this is desperately important to think about for all of us who share this common destiny.


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