Uncovering Bush's Iraq

Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War was produced and directed by Robert Greenwald, producer of 'Unprecedented: The Story of the 2000 Florida Election Scandal' (2002). Together with activist/actor Mike Farrell, he founded the group Artists United to Win without War. His next documentary, entitled 'Unconstitutional,' will be out in May 2004.

How did you originally get the idea to contact these people for the interviews?

Well, I had heard about [former CIA analyst] Ray McGovern and his group [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity], and the CIA guys, and I thought it was just fascinating that these CIA guys were coming out against the misuse of information, and I wanted to talk to these people. I thought if some sort of them would agree to talk, they would make a wonderful counterpoint because -- as always in these things -- you're looking for credibility, and professionalism, and expertise.

So that was the beginning, and then I had read about Ambassador Joe Wilson, and heard about some of those people who had resigned. So I was only going after people who had experience with the corridors of power and then through some people I'd read about in the newspaper -- Ray McGovern gave me a bunch of names. Ambassador Wilson gave me a bunch of names -- one name would lead to another.

Were you surprised by the reaction you received from your interviewees?

I was very surprised at how articulate, passionate, and patriotic I found them to be -- particularly the CIA folks. I had a little bit of a cliché in my mind about CIA guys being bad, and I met some wonderful human beings who really defined patriotism in a very personal and very important manner and they flipped my prejudices on their head.

Mel Goodman (of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) frames the movie quite specifically by saying, "The Bush Administration made up its mind to go to war on September 11th 2001." Was there any footage that you didn't use (for whatever reason) that suggested that the Bush Administration wanted to go into Iraq prior to September 11th? I'm thinking of things like the document, Project for a New American Century, or some of the recent revelations by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who claims that Bush had his eye on Hussein from the beginning of his presidency.

There was no smoking gun, but the experts were all in agreement that the war was a function of neoconservative philosophy (i.e., "Project For a New American Century") and that they had a policy, and that they went looking for evidence to support that policy.

With Uncovered you've done something that is potentially very damaging to the Bush Administration. Did you receive any resistance?

Bush himself, and Cheney, and Rumsfeld refused to be interviewed. We had sent them an interview and they answered back that they weren't going to participate but we certainly -- among the people who are in this movie (not all of them were in a hurry to be in a film) -- but they all felt that this is such an important issue -- the way information was misused and distorted that -- including those who were in favor of the war, that it is so important that it was their obligation as citizens in a democracy to speak out.

Who else refused to be interviewed?

Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz.

The movie has no narrator. Was that the idea from the beginning?

Yes. I wanted very much not to have one to make the material more immediate, more emotional, more personal. I wasn't sure if I could pull it off, but fortunately I was able to do so.

What sorts of logistics were involved in the making of the film?

I had several terrific colleagues in the making of the movie. One of them, Jim Gilliam, the associate producer, tracked down many of the people. I would get a name, and he'd find out where they were, and also create a whole file on them: sometimes 20 pages, sometimes 50 pages, what they wrote, where they'd be interviewed, etc. so when I spoke to them I was well prepared. Then once Jim would find a phone number or email address, Kate McArdle, our co-producer, could find them, so to speak, and try to give them a comfort level in my doing an interview. The three of us worked very, very closely together in making all of that happen in a short period of time.

Was Uncovered a labor of love, then?

It was definitely a labor of love. I volunteered, and didn't get paid, and the others worked, all of them, at significantly reduced salaries. I started it with my own dollars, and when I ran out, reached out to MoveOn and the Center for American Progress which became my sponsors and gave me the financial resources to be able to finish the film.

What did your friends and colleagues say when you told them you were going to make this movie?

Friends and colleagues were all very supportive, thinking it was an important story to be done. No one knew it would have this kind of phenomenal public response, from the number of DVDs sold to the screenings all over the country, to standing ovations at many of them, to the house parties. It has so gone beyond my wildest expectations that I couldn't be happier. We just passed 50,000 DVDs sold -- and there are a lot more coming, a commercial DVD company's going to be distributing it in March. It's going to be available through NetFlix and GreenCine, and I think we'll have a cable sale.

A lot of people are going to see this movie, but friends and colleagues -- and myself -- had no idea. It just seemed an important story to tell, in one instance where film can tell a story very well.

How were the MoveOn house parties arranged?

MoveOn sent out an email that said there was this film, that many people had bought it, and there were other people who wanted to buy it, and they were going to have this one night: People could sign up and either have a house party that was open to other MoveOn members, or just for their friends, and they would then be hooked up to this telephone interview afterward. We all expected that if we were lucky, that maybe there's be a couple of hundred parties. There were close to 3,000 by the time we were finished. It was just an extraordinary evening.

Will we be seeing Uncovered at film festivals this year?

I think so. We've started submitting it. My first goal was to get the movie out to the base, as it were, who could make a difference. But we're also starting to submit it to film festivals. I assume it will be accepted by a bunch of them.

You've said there's a possible cable TV deal in the works, so there's hope that a wider audience will see Uncovered -- but why would the networks, for example, not want this?

I don't think it's political. Networks don't do documentaries, and when they do they don't do them on serious subjects for the most part, and when they do they have their own shows do them. That's why we're fortunate to have cable. I think if we're lucky -- check back with me in a couple of months -- that we may have another announcement about that.

Your next documentary is called Unconstitutional. What will it be about?

Civil liberties after 9/11. It's in production now, and should be ready in May.

What other projects are you working on?

I'm doing a 15-minute piece for the AFL-CIO, a piece they will use for their organizers, while they go out and organize people about the Bush Administration's war on jobs. I'm doing a piece for Center for American Progress that focuses on the child tax credit, and the fact that people who make between $10,000-$25,000 have gotten no tax credit whatsoever. And ... those are the ones I can announce.

What has influenced your own political ideas?

I think my parents were a good, powerful political influence. And growing up in New York City where the political dialogue was always dynamic and multicultural. I think those were probably the two real influences on my life.

René Tony Donnes is an instructor at Hawaii Pacific University. He can be reached at donnes@hawaii.edu.

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