By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
When you were shooting the film unembedded, under extremely harrowing conditions, did you think a lot about the politics of embedded journalism?
I can't blame any journalist or filmmaker who chooses to be embedded with the U.S. military. I don't think that side of the story is illegitimate; I just knew that it was already being covered.
Has it been possible for you to stay in touch with the people you filmed?
One translator I worked with has been seeing the family I filmed, the one with the brick farm, and he says they're all the same, doing well. But Sheik Aws al Kafaji, the Shiite cleric from the film, is apparently in prison. He was arrested by the Americans. I don't know exactly why; I'd love to find out more about that, but it's kind of tricky. He was arrested and tortured under Saddam, so it's kind of ironic now that he would be arrested by the Americans. I imagine him taking a very ironic, darkly humorous perspective on that. I hope he makes it through.
I wrote from Sundance that your film is without precedent in the history of documentary. Would any of your influences encourage you to disagree?
I have a lot of heroes in documentary filmmaking. But my style probably comes more from the fiction films that I've seen and liked in my life. I'm working within the documentary form, but most of the people who have really pushed the aesthetics of film have worked in fiction. I don't see the two forms as being mutually exclusive.
Certainly fiction has incorporated elements of documentary.
Longley: And vice versa. The documentaries I like most are quite old: Berlin, Symphony of a City or Man with a Movie Camera. Those films are from before the age of television, before documentary was corrupted by talking heads, before this marriage of newsprint and radio media with the moving picture. Watching Berlin, you get a better sense of pre-war Berlin than you would get from any history book. And that's an inspiration to me. You're taking the audience and saying: Experience this thing this multidimensional, extremely complicated, million-legged beast through the medium of cinema.
On an early December afternoon at the offices of Malpaso Productions, Clint Eastwood's four Academy Awards have been placed into thick velvet carrying bags, while that famous poncho the one Eastwood donned for the entirety of Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy is being carefully loaded into a large shipping box. But that doesn't mean that Eastwood himself is packing it in. The memorabilia in question is merely being loaned out to the California Museum in Sacramento, where Eastwood has just been inducted into the California Hall of Fame (part of an inaugural class that includes Cesar Chavez, John Muir and Ronald Reagan). "Will I ride off into the sunset? Maybe. Will I be dragged off kicking and screaming? Probably," he told me back in 2004 when I came here to interview him just prior to the release of Million Dollar Baby. And in the full spirit of those words, he's spent much of the intervening two years devoted to the biggest, most ambitious project of his six-decade career.
That project was to have been a single film, Flags of Our Fathers, about the American soldiers who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima one of the bloodiest in all of World War II and how they later became unwitting cogs in the war effort's well-oiled propaganda machine. Then, during pre-production, Eastwood had a thought: What about the Japanese troops who fought so bravely to defend those eight square miles of volcanic terrain, 20,000 of whom died in the process? And the more Eastwood thought about that, the more he couldn't stop thinking about it, until he found himself at the helm of a second Iwo Jima movie, this time told from the other side of the front lines, filmed with an all-Japanese cast and all-Japanese dialogue. Now, with Letters from Iwo Jima opening wide, Eastwood once again sits on a dark-horse Oscar contender that it's hard to imagine any other American filmmaker (save perhaps Steven Spielberg, who served as Eastwood's producer on the movie) managing to get made.
"I just thought it would be good to tell the whole story," says Eastwood with his trademark nonchalance, adding that he was particularly drawn to the figure of Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played in Lettersby Ken Watanabe), the Japanese commander on Iwo Jima who, prior to the war, traveled extensively throughout the Americas, logging time as a military attaché in Washington and as a student at Harvard. Kuribayashi's lyrical dispatches back to his wife, daughter and son, published in the book Picture Letters from Commander in Chief, provided the connective tissue for the Lettersscreenplay (by first-time Japanese-American screenwriter Iris Yamashita). "The book doesn't say very much it's just his letters home and these little sketches he made of himself and the people he saw," Eastwood says. "But you can see that he was a very concerned father, worried about his kids, their academics, their spelling, telling them he's going to fix certain things when he gets home, that he can't wait to see them, that he wishes he was there. All the things that a normal husband and father would do, anywhere in the world."