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"A Moment in the Sun": An Extended Interview with Filmmaker/Author John Sayles

Amy Goodman discusses race, class, labor, and sexuality with the legendary filmmaker-turned-novelist.

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"Only eight miles from the enemy stronghold," he boasts, "and  too weak to move."

This is where the story diverges from the parable of the Trojan Horse.

Emissaries, Macabebe scouts able to pass as Tagalos, are sent ahead  to beg for food. Sustenance is delivered to their camp, the ruse maintained. Nourished, their fighting spirit restored, the party marches triumphantly into Aguinaldo’s bailiwick, his much smaller compliment of soldiers turning out in parade dress to welcome them, and then—

The Humorist imagines himself a man at the prow of a lifeboat, peering over a restless sea. Perhaps it is in time of War. He spies a figure tossed on the waves, desperately swimming, survivor of some maritime calamity, each stroke more feeble than the last and about to go under. He bids the oarsman put his back to it, the lifeboat plowing through murderous swells, till he can lean forward and stretch his arm out to that solitary victim, reaching, reaching, and finally the exhausted wretch able to clasp his wrist with one hand—and plunge a dagger into his heart with the other.

Funston is the man with the dagger.

He is the toast of the Nation.

AMY GOODMAN: John Sayles, reading from  A Moment in the Sun. There is a huge debate about torture in this country. Can you talk about the Philippines and torture?

JOHN SAYLES: Well, it’s, I mean, notably where the United States first learned the technique of waterboarding. It was called the "water cure" back then. There were, at the time, congressional commissions, investigations. People came and talked about having taken part in that.

AMY GOODMAN: You show it in your upcoming film,  Amigo.

JOHN SAYLES: Yeah, it’s in the film. It’s in the book. It was a method of getting information. The information sometimes was good information—it got something done. Other times it was useless, because people would just say anything that came to their head to, you know, stop the torture. It was probably cruder than as practiced right now, in that the reports are that a great number of the people who were subjected to it died, drowned. And there’s some question as to whether, you know, some of the people who were administering it just figured, "Well, that’s what we’re going to do is we’re going to kill this person. You know, they don’t know anything, but we might as well make an example here." It was something that was controversial in its time and continues to be controversial. I think that soldiers on the line have a different feeling about it than people back at home, soldiers on the line feeling either, "Well, maybe this could save me or one of my friends," or, "I hope I don’t have to take any part in it. You know, I didn’t sign up for this."

One of the things that—one of the reasons that  A Moment in the Sun is so large is that it’s a very complex story. War is a very complex thing. One of the main sources that I used in my research for it was letters home and diaries of soldiers who were sent over there, many of them volunteers, some of them regular soldiers. And from the same company, from the same unit, with the same experiences, you can find one soldier who’s a warrior, who’s just over there, loves what they’re doing, you know, "This killing goo-goos is better than a rabbit hunt"; another who is just kind of, "Well, I signed up for this, and I’m supposed to kill who they tell me to kill. And, you know, it’s hot and dangerous, and I don’t like it much, but, you know, this is the job that I signed up for"; and a third who might be horrified by what he’s being asked to do and what the United States is doing in that country, and have some political analysis of it. And those are guys who have to get along with each other in some way and support each other.

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