“I guess it’s true,” says Edward Zwick, “that when you’re awarded something like this, you’re bound to think about what you’ve made, and what it all means.”
That “something” is the Kodak Award for Excellence in Filmmaking, given to Zwick in anticipation of his latest film arriving in December, “Defiance,” about a little-known resistance led by a band of Jews against Nazi troops in the Belarusian forest.
“The problem is that I honestly think that I never intentionally pick a story to film based on this or that element or aspect, so it’s hard for me to define myself.”
But, once it’s suggested that there indeed appears to be a theme running through many of his movies, he becomes interested: “What is it?”
Zwick pauses, then utters a hesitant assent. “That may get pretty close to it.”
He dives into the idea at this point, and as he does, the director mentally runs his films back and finds the link to his new one.
“The way I try to search for good stories to tell onscreen is pretty organic, and something in me is greatly attracted to heroes,” whether they are the black troops who declared their allegiance to the Union in “Glory,” an officer defying authorities to get to the truth in “Courage Under Fire” or another coming to understand the culture he was duty-bound to destroy in “The Last Samurai,” and now, in “Defiance,” a band of (literal) brothers forging a community of survivors and a force against those who would exterminate them.
“But it’s a particular kind of heroism,” adds Zwick, “that’s actually counterintuitive. My characters tend to be reluctant heroes of the least prepared kind. The word ‘hero’ can be oversimplified, and what interests me are those people who never intended to start out being heroes, but spontaneously or reluctantly — or both — discover that they have the resources to do what’s right.”
And in an era of superhero movies, Zwick thinks, this becomes a greater challenge for the Hollywood filmmaker. “The complexity of true heroism isn’t easy to market, which is why we tend to fall back on comicbook characters with superpowers.
“But what about common, everyday heroism? If you ask people, and if you ask me, that’s the kind that’s the most inspiring.”