Yemenity2010's Blog

Intelligent Designs in an Age of Terror?

Posted in Blog Entry in English, Tema: Kultur, Tema: Politik by yemenity2010 on 14/02/2012

The international film festival in Gothenburg took place again recently. I had the privilege to see the British political thriller ”Page Eight”, which was… OK, maybe not great, but definitely good. And as a bonus, the director David Hare took some questions from the audience afterwards. The theme is terrorism, or more exactly, how to respond to it from the perspective of the British intelligence agency MI5. They’ve had a hard time since 9/11 according to Mr Hare, partly because they refused to produce evidence of weapons of mass destruction when the Prime minister needed a case to go to war in Iraq along with the US.

MI5 is, by the way, the branch of British Intelligence that operates within British shores, as opposed to MI6 (where James Bond would have been employed, had he existed in real life). The latter branch was more willing to provide the ‘intel’ that Tony Blair was asking for, than MI5.

– Both have had difficult years, says David Hare who thought the time was ripe for a film on the topic, just like John le Carré wrote novels about the Cold War.

The people in ”Page Eight”, especially the leading character, MI5 investigator Johnny is portrayed in a rather sympathetic way, as played by the veteran Bill Nighy (”Love Actually”, ”The Constant Gardener”) whom Hare has worked with on several occasions.

– I didn’t write the part for him, but when I’d written 30 pages it was obvious it was him. And he wanted to play this part; he’s very mysterious and very attractive to women. Two things that all actors dream of playing…

Hare also got the Australian actress Judy Davis to play a part, but it didn’t come easy.

– I struggled to get her. In Australia she’s regarded as such a great actress that she hardly acts at all! But her agent said to her: if you don’t do this, what will you ever do?

All in all, the cast was made up of mostly experienced and skilled actors (like Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes) who together formed ”a nauseatingly happy family” in Hare’s words. And he admits he needed it, since the film was made principally for British TV with a five-week shooting schedule and a very modest budget. Not like when Hare was involved in making films like ”The Hours ” and ”The Reader”.

– You won’t believe how long we went on filming those…

Now everyone had to be on top of their game, with no time to ‘hang around’.

– I would hate to do it with actors less good than this lot. But these are all actors that can do anything, says Hare who considers the chance to visit film festivals is a nice bonus considering the circumstances while making ”Page Eight”.

But he also notes the fact that many of the best writers in America now works in television, such as Aaron Sorkin.

– After ”Social Network” he’s the most admired screenwriter in America and what is he doing? An HBO series. And why? Because that’s where the intelligent people are and also where the writer is the person who drives the medium. The writer’s the most important person in the room. Well, that is never true in Hollywood – on the contrary…

One question from the audience considered the less flattering portrayal of politicians. Hare agrees, even if the thinks his own creation, the Prime minister played by Ralph Fiennes is more ”formidable, intelligent, resolute and strong” than real politicians usually are. But Hare’s experience with world leaders he ”occasionally has bumped into” are different from other people.

– One thing that western world leaders think is that our civilization is under attack from muslim fundamentalists, who are coming to destroy us. This is what they believe and they believe that everything they do is justified by this threat, Hare explains, while adding briefly that Barack Obama is cleverer than the rest and doesn’t necessarily sees the world the same way.

But the themes in the film are not only what kind of information is passed on to politicians, but also in what way it is obtained. Such as torture, which has been illegal within Britain for more than 400 years.

– There may be a threat, but obviously the film is about the means by which we fight that threat. And obviously a lot of people in MI5 have been very squeamish and disapproving of some of the methods that have been too easily adopted by politicians.

Also, a number of films from the Arab world was shown in Gothenburg. Sad to say, I only saw two of them, of which the Egyptian ”Cairo 678”, about sexual harrassments in society, really impressed me. Three women confronts abuses in different ways, while their destinies begin to converge. The Palestinian drama ”Habibi” had an interesting theme; love in times of conflict and against the odds, but it still felt a bit unfinished and less involving than it should have. Partly because of the male protagonist who was a lot less vivid and intriguing than the female one; i.e. the love of his life.

(More film festival reviews in Swedish are available at russin.nu)

Speaking of films: Not as good as the book – or will it be? ”Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” by Paul Torday was a treat, and soon the film is about to open, as it happens directed by a Swede.

Somewhat related topics: Al Jazeera English has covered a lot of what’s happening in the Middle East lately and here’s a page with an overview of the coverage.

The International Food Policy Research Institute recently released a report titled ”Beyond the Arab Awakening”. Haven’t read much of it yet, but the researchers point out that ”Results suggest that poverty and income inequality in the Arab world are likely higher than official numbers have long suggested.”

The Yemeni water crisis isn’t going away anytime soon, it seems. Could it even lead to wars? Here’s an update from a news channel and the blog The Wadi. I wrote on this topic about 1,5 years ago here.

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