If a film festival’s opening night is all about setting the tone for the days to come, then we can expect lots of star power and serious cinema during SBIFF 2009. This evening, January 22, the fest kicks off with Nothing but the Truth, which stars Kate Beckinsale as a reporter who goes to jail rather than revealing her source. Directed by West Point educated film critic-turned-director Rod Lurie, the already acclaimed movie-which also stars Alan Alda, Matt Dillon, Noah Wyle, David Schwimmer, and Angela Bassett-pits journalistic principles against national security. With a surprise ending, it’s sure to get fest-goers talking. Lurie, who will be in attendance tonight, along with some stars from the film, recently chatted with The Independent about his new movie.
How’d you pick this festival? Roger [Durling] gave me a call and, I gotta say, it was pound for pound one of the nicest moments of the past 20 years for me. Our film was getting flying-high reviews : and then, in mid December, my [business] partner Marc Frydman gets a call from the Hollywood Reporter to comment on the Chapter 11 of our distributor. So the film was a victim of a drive-by shooting-it was happy-go-lucky, then it’s lying there with bullet holes in it. : There are, more or less, no ads, almost everybody in that company got fired, there was no publicity. : We were on a real down, but then Roger contacted me and said this movie should be the opening-night film. It made us feel real good. We all really love that festival-that’s a beautiful festival-so it couldn’t have come at a better time. It was a real sign of confidence.
Tell me a little about the movie. Was it inspired by the Valerie Plame affair? That’s really a jumping-off point. I put different human beings into the similar situation that Judith Miller and other journalists have faced in going to jail to protect a source. To be truthful, I knew very little about the Miller case. : Susan McDougal, who went to jail rather than testify against Bill Clinton, really was more of a model in terms of the kind of human being that she was.
You were in the Army and spent a number of years as a journalist. How did those two backgrounds inform this film? I think that almost everything I’ve done is informed by something that has occurred to me in my life, or something that I can relate to. When people ask me what film school they should go to, my answer is always the same: It’s really much wiser to go to school and study what you want to make movies about. What you can learn about making a film, you can learn on the set and learn through experience. Become a student.
I went to West Point and studied political science, and political science of the Middle East, by the way, so the world has always really fascinated me. My dad was a journalist, a political cartoonist, so, yeah, all my movies are influenced by my experience. I think most filmmakers can say that, unless you’re Christopher Nolan.
Resurrecting the Champ was about journalism. This film is about journalism. The Contender is a political story. But most of my films deal with principles and people sticking by their principles-how far they’re willing to go and whether our principles can destroy us. So that is really the theme of this movie as well.
I’ve read that your film brings up a lot of ideas, but doesn’t necessarily give answers. The main reason is because I don’t know the answers. I seriously don’t. : The epidermic issue is national security versus freedom of speech. I don’t know the answer to that, Matt. All I can do is present the story and let the audience determine what the answer might be.
It’s one of those movies where, at the end, the very last two lines of the film are such that they change the entire viewing experience of the film. : I’ll say this: Some people abhor the ending and some people like it a lot. But when the lights come up in the theater and you get ready to leave, you’re not going to turn to the person you’re with and say, “Do you want to get dinner?” You’re going to talk about the movie.
How did you gather together such an all-star cast? I want to tell you a secret: Nobody is writing roles for women outside of romantic comedies. Really, very few people are. When an actress gets sort of beefy roles that aren’t the traditional female leads, then it becomes attractive. I give you Monster’s Ball, Monster, Erin Brockovich, Million Dollar Baby. So what I do is purposefully write for women knowing that the field is just not that crowded.
Are you looking forward to Santa Barbara? You know what? I am more than looking forward to it. It’s going to be the highlight of the year and it’s only the first couple weeks of the year! I love the theater, I love Santa Barbara, I love the festival, and it’s really a testament to what Roger has been able to do that he’s gotten so many great people to come up and be part of that festival.