Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart shed their satirical personas last night to discuss Stewart’s directorial debut “Rosewater,” a film inspired
by the true events of BBC Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari who was arrested and
held in solitary confinement for 107 days. His crime? Releasing video footage of the
2009 Iranian Election protests and for appearing on a “Daily Show” segment with
Jason Jones to discuss his political beliefs. Noted for its earnestness and nuanced portrayal of Iran, “Rosewater” also finds humor in unexpected places.
The film played for a packed Lincoln Center theater in New York before the dynamic duo took to the stage. Colbert, who is gearing up for his new gig on “The Late Show” deviated from his “Colbert Report” character and spoke to Stewart as if they were just old friends catching up. Despite the film’s serious content, Stewart and Colbert kept spirits high and kept the laughs going as they brought Maziar Bahari up to the stage and discussed his captivity in Evin prison.
Colbert “blew his wad off” right away and complimented Stewart
on his astonishing directorial debut before diving in and asking him about how
he decided to tell this story. Jon said, “After [Maziar] was released, he wrote
an article for Newsweek about his experience. He got released and he was still
in Iran for about 3 days and his interrogator and the boss of the interrogator
took him out for coffee. They sat down with him and said just so you know,
you’re getting out, but if you tell anybody about what happened here, we will
bring you back in a bag. And not the nice bags in the airport, the bad bags.
And he thought right then and there, I will write this article on the fucking
Colbert pointed to the tangential involvement of Stewart
with Bahari’s actual story. After all, it was his “Daily Show” segment that was
used against Bahari in interrogation. Stewart explained, “We felt nervous because
what do we do? We didn’t feel guilty because it’s banal. You saw what we did.
It’s banal. It’s banal idiocy. The idea that that could be weaponized is a
remarkable leap. It shows that it’s a pretense and that they were searching for
any methodology for which to link him as a saboteur.”
To that end, Colbert asked if the film itself is being used as
a weapon given that Bahari’s camera and his journalistic expression were interpreted as a weapon in the film. Stewart responded, “I believe it is a weapon, but it’s
a soft weapon. I don’t believe a film, a skit, or anything you can do can
change the world in the way that we want it to in the narrative we create in
our minds. What I do believe is bearing witness, creating conversation that
hopefully is more nuanced and hopefully more thoughtful than what had
previously been occurring, becomes weaponized in its aggregate. It changes the
momentum of conversation.”
Humor Amidst Darkness
Stewart explained how he refrained from letting his
inclination for satire and humor overshadow his goal. “I think I allowed the humor
to live organically. It’s in the book. For us, we’ve always lived by this idea
that in your darkest moments, humor can be a shield of sorts, it can give you
sustenance. It’s something that has value to you on an individual basis. But,
what if you remove the audience? He’s in solitary. The audience is gone. Would
humor still be something that could grant you sustenance in a vacuum? Maziar
was able to maintain his humanity in that vacuum by still being able to conjure
the absurdity of a situation, by leaning on his culture, his memories, and his
rich history. So, the humor I tried not to impose on the story.”
Specifically, there was a lot of New Jersey humor, which provoked Colbert to ask if “there is any New Jersey elements in Iran because they’re both states trying to regain legitimacy ruled by an angry dictator.”
From “The Daily Show” to “Rosewater”
Colbert questioned how Stewart transitioned from his place of comfort to the more foreign experience of filmmaking.
Colbert: “So I’d say you’re a deconstructionist in your
show. How did that translate to what you were doing here?”
Stewart: “In some respects, I deconstructed the themes of it
and then wove in the plot points to accentuate that as opposed to
deconstructing the plot. If the subtext is bearing witness as a stronger
response to oppression, you deconstruct that and work backwards from it.
When Bahari took the stage, Colbert wasted no time before
getting to the hard-hitting questions and asked, “Obviously the first question
is do you still communicate with people in the media over in Iran? How are they responding to Kim Kardashian’s ass?
Bahari’s sense of humor clearly was not deterred by his
traumatic experience, which he dove into from a rather clerical perspective. He
explained that the modern torture technique is psychological. “They tell the
torturers that there is a threshold of tolerance for physical torture. Beyond
that threshold of tolerance, the prisoner can either break and tell lies or he
or she can reach a nirvana state and think that he or she is invincible, but
with psychological torture, you don’t have that threshold. And you can torture
people as much as you want.”
made it clear that a torturer is just a cog in the bureaucratic system. “Like any other employee he comes
to work, he punches his card, he tortures people, he gets overtime and he goes
home.” Bahari somehow managed to summarize Iranian government’s callousness toward a
person’s basic human rights. Both Bahari and Stewart praised Gael Garcia Bernal’s authentic interpretation of the character.
After speaking about his time imprisoned, his mind turned
toward impact. “I want the Iranaian government officials to watch this film as
a mirror to their actions. They should look at it and see how ridiculous they
are. How brutal they are. And if one person in the Iranian government watches
this film and changes his behavior, I would be happy.”
Bahari also views the
film as an urgent message to Western policy makers as well.
“I think for
the first time we see an image of Iran with young people who are open-minded,
pro-democracy, and they are the best allies of the west and I think it’s important
for western politicians who want to go to war with Iran to think about these
people. If they ever go to war with Iran, if they ever bomb Iran, these young
people who are now the best allies of the west, they are going to be the first
victims of this war.”
Bahari’s wife, Paola Gourley, was in attendance last
night and was caught off guard when Colbert threw the spotlight over to her and
asked what she thought of the film. She, of course, praised Stewart for his
honesty and authenticity in documenting her husband’s experience. Colbert couldn’t
help but quip, “Well, he’s a liar.”
Stewart too believes this film can make an impact and said, “I
always see expression as an antidote to ignorance. Journalism is an antidote to
ignorance and hopefully, if I have any aspiration for the film, it’s for this
to engage that conversation.
“Rosewater” is out in select theaters today.