Columbia Journalism Review Interviews Errol Morris


The Columbia Journalism Review has posted an excellent long-form interview with documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, entitled Recovering Reality: Errol Morris on Abu Ghraib.

The interview covers Morris's new project (undertaken with Philip Gourevitch) Standard Operating Procedure, which will examine the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs and their true context. Now, I've talked about Morris several times on this blog, so it's fair to say I'm a fan. But ever since I saw an online video from last October showing Morris and Gourevitch discussing Abu Ghraib for The New Yorker, I've been dying to see the new film -- but also dreading it, due to its subject matter. The film isn't here yet (it comes out on April 25), but there's certainly plenty of discussion with Morris to tide me over in the meantime.

The CJR interview has much to do (unsurprisingly) with issues of journalism and truth. Here's a representative sample:

None of your films has been particularly concerned with what we might call balanced journalism. In Standard Operating Procedure, the point of view largely belongs to the soldiers who took the photographs and were subsequently indicted. What is your aversion to stories that employ a more traditional weighing of arguments? I don't believe that's journalism. I'm sorry. [laughs] Take a clear example: I made this film, The Thin Blue Line, about a murder case in Dallas. Is the job of a journalist simply to have everybody weigh in on what his or her viewpoint might be? Or should the journalist find out what really happened? Is it a matter of indifference whether [the suspect] is guilty or innocent? Is it just something that we should have a vote on -- as if a vote can determine what actually transpired in reality? That doesn't mean you don't interview people with different points of view, different beliefs, different ideas. Of course you do. You interview lots and lots and lots of people, and look at lots of different kinds of evidence. But a journalist's job -- and I do think of myself as a kind of journalist -- is to try and ferret out what really happened; to ferret out the truth. Did these soldiers, these "seven bad apples," create all of this stuff? One of the things that we learn in the movie is that when they arrive at Abu Ghraib, a lot of this stuff is already in place: the stress positions, the cement bags, the hooding, stripping prisoners naked, sleep deprivation. It was there to begin with. It was there when they walked in. I think that is a very, very important detail. People know very little about this place: what happened there, where these policies came from, whether they were in fact policies, what they were hoping to achieve.

After the jump, check out a (beautifully shot) video showing part of the interview.

Note that the video doesn't cover the entire text of the interview. Morris fans will likely want to read the printed interview as well.

See also: Standard Operating Procedure web site; Errol Morris's web site.