Documaker's latest film is in competition
The first documentary to be unspooled in competition at Berlin, Errol Morris’ “Standard Operating Procedure” not only examines a tragic and shameful chapter in U.S. military history but also plays with what a photograph can meaningfully convey — and if what it shows is the truth.
“I became really interested in war photography,” said Morris. “I’d been writing a series of essays about photography for the New York Times; I thought I’d do a film about a set of photographs.”
The film examines the circumstances and people behind the infamous photos of prisoner abuse by U.S. military personnel at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. “No one really had talked to the people who were in the photographs, or had taken the photographs,” said Morris. “It was just assumed we knew everything there was to know about them.”
Unlike his previous doc “The Fog of War,” in which Morris lets former Kennedy administration secretary of defense Robert McNamara relate his experiencesof the Vietnam War, this is “flip side,” where the lowliest ranking soldier gets to tell his or her story.
“I did not want to make that same kind of political film about the very top levels of the chain of command. I wanted to tell a story about the experiences of these people who were there,” said Morris. “They have been demonized. We think we know who these people are.”
“There’s the idea in the film that photography is not necessarily the truth,” said Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics, which is distributing the pic. “One of the things that I love about the film is that you watch it and you are in the shoes of the common soldier who committed all these acts, and you tell yourself, ‘That could be me.’ ”
Barker lauded the score by Danny Elfman and said “Morris’ following gets bigger and bigger every year. I think that with this film his European audience will grow.”
Participant Films co-produced with Sony Classics and will host a panel called “Diplomacy in the Age of Terror: The Impact of Diminished Rule of Law” 3 p.m. at the Ritz Carlton Wednesday. Panelists include Dr. Allen Keller, director of the NYU Survivors of Torture; Lord Peter Goldsmith, former U.K. attorney general; Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights; Lionel Barber, Financial Times editor; and Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, chair of the committee for human rights and humanitarian aid of the German Parliament.
Participant is developing a social-action program to coincide with the April release of the film, said company prexy Ricky Strauss, that will involve a traveling exhibition of photos and an exchange of medical students.
“We always wanted to work with Participant,” said Barker, “so it was all a very good match.”