'A Mighty Heart'
Friday, June 15, 2007; 11:30 AM
" A Mighty Heart" stars Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl, wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped by terrorists in 2002. The film explores Mariane's efforts to track down her husband after he disappears while on assignment in Karachi, giving viewers a more personal view of what was an international news story.
Michael Winterbottom, director of "A Mighty Heart," was online Friday, June 15 at 11:30 a.m. ET to discuss the film and his career in cinema.
Winterbottom is a British filmmaker who directed "24 Hour Party People," "9 Songs" and "Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story." "A MIghty Heart" will be released in theaters on June 22.
New York, N.Y.: How did you get to direct this film? Did you seek to direct it, or were you sought out to be the director? What brought you to decide to direct the film?
Michael Winterbottom: Dede Gardner and Brad Pitt called up and asked if me if I wanted to direct it, and I said yes.
Washington, D.C.: Michael,
I've been hearing great things about your film and am very anxious to see it. I just remember when you all were filming, there was an enormous amount of press attention for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in the countries in which you were filming. How did you manage to film the scenes you needed to without disruption? How did the actors (and you) maintain focus?
Michael Winterbottom: First of all, most of the exteriors in the film were shot in Pakistan. We shot with a very small crew, and we worked with a lot of Pakistani actors. All of those scenes were filmed without any fuss at all, this was before we started filming with Angelina. And then really, virtually the whole story from Mariane's point of view takes place in one house in Karachi. Those scenes we shot in India. There were a lot of paparazzi trying to get shots, but that happened afterwards, at the hotel, so I didn't see much of that. So it didn't really affect us that badly.
Columbus, Ohio: It is impossible to deny the power of Mariane's story, yet I feel rather strongly Daniel himself has been lost to the intense spotlight she has attracted -- to the point that it's hard to say who the mighty heart belongs to. Were there ever moments during the production you felt Daniel was being too overshadowed?
Michael Winterbottom: It seemed to me, to be honest, that we were telling Mariane's story, not Danny's. It's based on Mariane's book, and it's really telling her story. So you're right, it isn't about Danny, it's about Mariane. This is really her story, from her point of view. I'm sure you could make another film about Danny, but I never met Danny. This is really telling Mariane's story.
Silver Spring, Md.: How is Mariane and her child doing? Was she compensated at all for her loss? From the WSJ, life insurance, etc.?
Michael Winterbottom: I don't know Mariane's personal finances, so I can't answer that. Having met her several times over the course of making the film, she is a very strong woman who is continuing with her journalism and raising her child. She brought Adam to the red carpet in Cannes with her; I think it's important to her that Adam know about Danny and knows who his father was.
Chicago: The murder of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan was a tragedy for the Pearl family and journalists all over the world. Reading the background on his life I understand that his father was a scholar in Israel. Why didn't Mr. Pearl, and The Wall Street Journal for that matter, take more precautions with Mr. Pearl's life?
I don't think that it was a very well kept secret that Daniel Pearl was Jewish, yet he was in an Islamic country trying to make contact with Islamic terrorists whose natural enemy is the state of Israel. Also, The Wall Street Journal is by and large a conservative publication that supports conservatives and Republicans. For years, many in the Middle East and other third-world countries have accused American correspondents of being spies for the American government. In your opinion, is there any truth to those types of allegations regarding Daniel Pearl and The Wall Street Journal? Do you think the Journal fed information about Pearl's discoveries in Pakistan to the CIA? Or do you believe Daniel Pearl was a journalist trying to do a good job? Either way, no one deserves the fate that he received.
Michael Winterbottom: I was in Pakistan in 2001 when Danny and Mariane went there to cover wars in Afghanistan. And there were thousands of journalists there at the time. I don't think anyone thought the sort of thing Danny was doing was unnecessarily dangerous. In the film we show that he was careful to ask people's advice about the meeting he was going to, and the meeting was going to take place in a restaurant in Karachi. One of the things that's brave about journalists, they all have to try to meet with the people they're reporting on. And I think he's a very honest journalist and wanted to meet people he wrote about. One of the reasons it was so shocking, people didn't expect this type of thing to happen in Pakistan. Obviously since then, there have been more cases like this. But Pakistan wasn't Iraq, it wasn't a country at war. And Danny was not a war journalist.
Do I think he was working for the CIA? No. He's an honest journalist trying to report honestly. On the Jewish bit, as we show in the film, Danny would never deny he was Jewish. Obviously that is who he was, he was proud of his heritage, and no one shoud have to deny who they are and where they are from.
Philadelphia: Have any members of the Pearl family viewed your film and, if so, are you aware of their reactions to your presentation?
Michael Winterbottom: Mariane has seen it. And also, Danny's parents watched it. Obviously, watching a film about Danny must be difficult. But everyone has been very supportive of the project.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Michael! I'm a big fan of yours as well as Steve Coogan's. I loved "24 Hour Party People" and "Tristram Shandy" (and I'm fairly obsessed with everything Alan Partridge). I saw that you're going to be reunited again for "Murder in Samarkand," but I was wondering if you two have any comedies in the works as well?
Michael Winterbottom:"Murder in Samarkand" is hopefully going to be funny. It's a black comedy about torture in Uzbekistan. Steve will play Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who spends a lot of time in bars and at dancing clubs. It's sort of Alan Partridge or Tony Wilson, trying to prevent the British government from using information they've obtained through torture.
Falls Church, Va.: Angelina Jolie is a well known and somewhat polarizing public persona. Do you think that the film could have been as successful with a lesser known actress who has the same chops? I am dying to see your movie yet hesitant because I don't care for Jolie.
Michael Winterbottom: When I first met Angelina, it was with Mariane. They were already friends, they knew each other. They seemed to me to be incredibly similar. We spent a lot of time talking about Mariane's experience, but their views on the world, the way they talked about their children and their families, they seemed to share a lot in common. It seemed perfect. If you're making a movie about a difficult time in a person's life, it makes sense for them to trust the actor. When we showed the film in Cannes, at the press conference afterward, Mariane said she had asked Angelina to play the part, which I hadn't realized. So I think clearly Mariane recognizes Angelina as a kindred spirit, and I hope that comes through in the film.
Glover Park, Washington, D.C.: Were you surprised about the controversy surrounding the casting of Angelina Jolie as Mrs. Pearl? Thank you!
Michael Winterbottom: A little bit, yeah.
Washington, D.C.: How was it shooting on Pakistan location? Did you run into any problems with the community?
Michael Winterbottom: I filmed there twice before, for "In This World" and "Road to Guantanamo," and with the same crew. So we all knew Pakistan quite well. In this case, obviously there were special circumstances. First of all, because Brad and Angelina made things more public. And also because Daniel Pearl's story is a controversial one in Pakistan. So we spent a lot of time trying to get permission from the right people in the governmemnt and we had a lot of cooperation from the Karachi police force. We did get quite a lot of hassle from the Pakistani intelligence agencies. They were always in our hotel, they followed us around, they hustled people in our crew. They managed to persuade Karachi police to stop cooperating with us. It was just low-level hassle. It eventually got resolved and by the end it was okay again. Pakistan is like every country, there are a lot of different opinions. It's not like everybody thinks one thing.
Bethesda, Md.: Love your work, Michael, and I have a trivial-but-burning question for you. My friend says that Jennifer Aniston was originally slated to play the part of Mariane Pearl in your movie, while I don't think she ever was. Can you help us settle this question?
Michael Winterbottom: Unfortunately, I have no idea. When I was offered the film, it was already with the idea of Angelina playing the part.
Washington, D.C.: What do you think were the greatest challenges for the actors in playing the roles of real people? Did any of them (perhaps Angelina Jolie in particular) seem to get strong emotional reactions off-camera, or was it a pretty workmanlike environment?
Thanks -- looking forward to seeing the movie!
Michael Winterbottom: Well, I think all the actors felt a responsibility to the characters they were playing. I got everyone to meet the real people and spend time with them, so they got to know them. They heard their version of their story. Also, so the real people could meet the actors as well.
They all tried their best to do what they thought their character would do under the circumstances. In terms of Angelina, I'm sure it was very hard. She's a friend of Mariane's so I'm sure she wanted to show how difficult it was for her through that whole month. But one thing Mariane did in the real house is try to keep everyone together as a team and keep a positive atmosphere in the house. And I think Angelina did the same thing on the set. The tensest day for filming was when news had to be broken that Danny was dead, and Mariane's reaction to that. I'm sure everyone was very tense.
Paris, France: Following on from the "Road to Guantanamo," you seem to be making a speciality of "War on Terror"-related films. Given the very strong anti-war (many would argue anti-American) point of view in "Road to Guantanamo," were you at all? I am anxious about dealing with material that showed an American as a victim of that war? Would you perhaps put Daniel Pearl's death at the door of the White House?
Michael Winterbottom: "The Road to Guantanamo" was not anti-American. It was showing what happened to three British guys in Guantanamo. I think Guantanamo is wrong. I don't think "Guantanamo" should exist. That doesn't make me anti-American. Lots of Americans think it's wrong as well.
In the case of Daniel Pearl, maybe at first glance it seems like this is the oppostie side of the story from "Road to Guantanamo." But I think actually both stories are very similar. Both are stories about people who are victims of increasing violence on both sides. There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this.
washingtonpost.com: Michael Winterbottom has signed off. He thanks you for your time and many questions, and is sorry he could not answer all of them. Please stick around for another movie-related discussion with Post critic Desson Thomson, starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.