Whoever orchestrated a talk on “Zero Dark Thirty” to coincide with “First Amendment Week” at L.A.’s Loyola Marymount University must have been a switched-on and frankly audacious organiser indeed. The film, described with telling accuracy by Kathryn Bigelow as “journalistic,” post-mortemed the hunt for Bin Laden with such haste that the proverbial body wasn’t even cold yet. The often-vitriolic debate which ensued over its factual accuracy and ethical stance (a card declaring its source material to be “firsthand accounts of actual events” did little to dodge the brimstone from foreign affairs pundits) pointed to a wider discussion of freedom of expression.
This week, screenwriter and producer Mark Boal spoke to students in California to set the record straight, and cited some precedent for his and Bigelow’s approach. “At the end of the day, merging film and news is a balancing act between fact-finding and storytelling. It comes with a distinct set of responsibilities to the subjects, the audience, and history. Movies from ‘All The President’s Men‘ to ‘Black Hawk Down‘ to ‘The Social Network‘ have all [done this],” he said, adding that it’s crucial “getting the balance right” between art and truth, but it’s something he feels they’ve achieved. Responding to New Yorker critic David Denby’s complaint that “Zero Dark Thirty” “claims the authority of fact and the freedom of fiction at the same time”, he gave the riposte, “Mr. Denby got it exactly wrong by being exactly right”.
On the dreaded waterboarding subject, he was unequivocal. “I think [torture] was dead wrong”, he asserted, but in regard to its function in the film, he quoted Bigelow: “Depiction is not endorsement”. In addition to the picture’s ideological angle on interrogation methods, concerns have been expressed over the possible exaggeration of specific incidents of prisoner interrogation. Boal stood firm on his account, arguing that “every interrogation technique portrayed in the film was performed by Americans, some lawfully, some not, in the war on terror. They are part of this story.”
There is no doubt that what Mr. Boal describes as “stirring the pot” of factual accuracy has resulted in a gripping picture which has re-kindled the kind of debate which is healthy and necessary in society. But with subject matter so raw in the American memory, venturing into this kitchen involves taking a hell of a lot of heat. [via Hollywood Elsewhere]