Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rendition production notes


    Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Alan Arkin, Peter Sarsgaard and Meryl Streep head an all-star ensemble cast in Rendition, a compelling thriller from director Gavin Hood (director of the Academy AwardÆ-winning film, Tsotsi) which takes a provocative look at the complex political issues surrounding the U.S. government’s policy of “extraordinary rendition” - abducting foreign nationals deemed a threat to national security for detention and interrogation in secret overseas prisons.

    Spanning two continents, Rendition tracks the lives of Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a CIA analyst based in North Africa who is forced to question his assignment after he witnesses the brutal and unorthodox interrogation of an Egyptian-American by secret North African police; Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), the Egyptian-American chemical engineer whose family emigrated to the States when he was a boy, and who is now suspected of a terrorist act; his pregnant wife Isabella El-Ibrahimi (Reese Witherspoon), who does everything in her power to find her missing husband, who has seemingly disappeared during a flight from Cape Town, South Africa to Washington, DC, by enlisting the help of a politically-connected college friend; Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard), an aide to Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin), who uncovers the troubling fact that Anwar has been shipped off, on the orders of the CIA’s head of terrorism; Corrinne Whitman (Meryl Streep) to a third world country for interrogation; and Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor), the head of the secret prison who has personal problems of his own with a rebellious daughter Fatima (Zineb Oukach) and her Islamic fundamentalist boyfriend Khalid (Moa Khouas).

    Rendition boldly explores the gray area between left and right and right and wrong and finds no easy answers. Director Gavin Hood, whose film Tsotsi became the first film from South Africa to win an Academy AwardÆ, makes his American motion picture debut directing screenwriter Kelley Sane's multi-layered story.

    New Line Cinema presents in association with Level 1 Entertainment an Anonymous Content Production – Rendition. The outstanding ensemble cast features Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal, Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon, Academy AwardÆ winner Alan Arkin, Peter Sarsgaard, Omar Metwally, Igal Naor and Academy Award winner Meryl Streep, as well as Moa Khouas and Zineb Oukach. [...]

    Rendition was filmed in Los Angeles and Washington DC, Marrakech, Morocco and Cape Town, South Africa.

    New Line Cinema will release Rendition (the film is not yet rated by the M.P.A.A.) in theaters nationwide on October 19th, 2007.

    The film will have its world premiere on September 7th, 2007 at the 32nd Annual Toronto International Film Festival.


    Screenwriter Kelley Sane first decided to write Rendition after a lively debate with his friend, Mark Martin, about the American government’s little-known policy of “extraordinary rendition,” which allows for the abduction of foreign nationals, deemed to be a threat to national security, for detention and interrogation in secret overseas prisons.

    Sane remembers, “Mark Martin, who is a co-producer on the movie, and I were talking about the potential for abuse, and how it seemed to not follow the lines of the American ideal. Mark suggested that I write a script. I had to think about it because watching someone getting picked up and tortured doesn’t necessarily seem that cinematically interesting. On deeper thought, what really struck me was the fact that if someone disappeared, their family would have no idea what happened. Thousands of people disappear in this country every year, for various reasons, and I could imagine the heartache of not knowing where a loved one is”

    Producer Steve Golin first saw the script in its early stages. “David Kanter and Keith Redman, who work with me at Anonymous Content, had found the script along with Mark Martin, who was working with my company at the time,” says Golin. “We worked on it for about a year. It really was a team effort. The thing that impressed me about the script was that it avoided being too preachy and that it really tried to explore “extraordinary rendition” and what the effects are on the individual people. [...]

    “One of the first challenges facing the filmmakers was in tackling the script’s multi-layered storylines. Hood explains, “You have to keep everything in balance and let every storyline arc sufficiently because essentially you are making four or five short films and weaving them together. One of the challenges I found exciting was how to get the maximum emotional impact, the maximum plot and story impact in the least amount of time so that you keep your audience moving. That is a tremendous challenge from a storytelling point of view and very exciting because there is no room for fat.”

    Jake Gyllenhaal, who portrays CIA analyst Douglas Freeman, adds, "This production was unlike any other I’ve worked on. The Morocco shoot felt like its own separate movie, when in actuality it was just a small piece of a larger picture. I think when we finally see the film it will be exhilarating to see how Gavin has woven the different pieces together."

    Hood and screenwriter Kelley Sane teamed up for further work on the script prior to the start of production. “When I initially read Kelley’s script, I thought it was structurally brilliant. He has this tremendous twist that happens at the end of the film that really catches you by surprise. All the characters are beautifully drawn in terms of coming from different angles of the story. So my work with Kelley was not about trying to create the story, since he’d already done that beautifully. It was a matter of finding rhythm and pace, which is a director’s job, and to find the emotional arcs of these stories and whether we were in balance within the story. And, then, of course, to ask about the balance from almost a legal point of view. Are we making the argument for the necessity for torture and the other argument against torture? Are these arguments balanced in the film? Because the one thing Kelley and I didn’t want to do was to tell the audience what to think.”

    [...] For her part, Witherspoon was instantly attracted to the material. “I liked the idea that the different story lines all lead to similar situations, but not in the way we have seen in other recent films that have multiple interwoven stories. The interesting element to me was that each person’s story is about isolation. It isn’t about connection. It’s about how we are singular in the world.”

    “I was also drawn to the role of Isabella because I have a lot of curiosity about what it must be like to be living as part of a Muslim family in America. We have a lot of ideas about certain religions, and a lot of fear has been propagated. I was interested in dispelling some of that fear.”

    “Reese is incredibly disciplined and is always completely prepared,” says director Gavin Hood. “She knows exactly where she is going. The only thing that was difficult for us was that it was my first experience working with an actress of her caliber and her fame – so
    I’d never before experienced the sight of the paparazzi all over the place!”

    Witherspoon researched her role by meeting with Muslim Americans. “I also found communities on the internet and read books,” she adds. “It’s fascinating to me that in this country we have so many different kinds of people and as many different religions. It’s part of the real beauty of America that people are allowed to practice religion without prejudice. But, then again, since 9/11, it has clearly been a more difficult situation for some families.”

    Jake Gyllenhaal, an OscarÆ nominee for his role in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, signed on to portray CIA analyst Douglas Freeman. "Jake plays a young man whose sense of right and wrong turns upside down when he finds himself thrown into an extraordinary situation," says producer Steve Golin.

    Gavin Hood adds, “Jake had a very difficult role because Douglas in a way is the moral compass to the film. He’s an observer, much like the audience. He is the one character whose opinion on the question of rendition is ambivalent. You don’t know which way he is going to go or quite what he’s feeling as the events of the film unfold around him. Jake did a brilliant job of knowing that his role as an actor was to say and do very little, yet absorb and emotionally reflect a great deal.”

    Gyllenhaal was attracted to a role that was so different from anything he’d previously done. "Douglas gets to be in the middle of the action, both emotionally and physically, with no real outlet -- and I found that kind of tension very exciting as an actor," he says. "I think many people in my generation are searching for something - their identity, who they are, what they want to do with their lives. This is where Douglas finds himself. When we first meet Douglas he has resigned himself to a sort of apathy, but he is quickly faced with a haunting reality that shakes him and forces him to face his own humanity. It makes him look into himself and find that thing he was searching for. At the end of the movie, he finds himself where he least expected it—which is ultimately tremendously rewarding for him and also for me as an actor."

    Actor Omar Metwally joined the cast to portray the key role of Anwar El-Ibrahimi, who is suspected of being a terrorist, abducted and taken to a secret overseas prison.

    “Omar is a highly intelligent, very emotionally in-tune young actor,” says Gavin Hood. “He had a role that in many ways was tougher than some of the other actors because he spent a lot of time in scenes by himself. I’m very fortunate to have an actor of Omar’s ability in the role.”

    “There are several scenes where Anwar is alone,” says Metwally. “I think those scenes are very important because torture is an isolating experience. It was one of the things that drew me to this character. It’s such an incredible role, it’s one that I think actors dream about playing because he is a man who’s just pushed to or is experiencing the outer edge of human existence.”

    Two-time Academy AwardÆ-winner Meryl Streep portrays Corrine Whitman, head of counter terrorism for the CIA. Gavin Hood relished the opportunity to work with the legendary actress.

    “Possibly the greatest privilege on this movie was to work with Meryl, and I know it sounds sort of sycophantic to say, but it is true,” he says. “She is an icon and I can only say she is a consummate professional and so kind to everyone and completely disciplined. When you are ready, she is ready.”

    Reese Witherspoon adds, “Working with Meryl – Wow! I’ve been lucky enough to meet her socially, so I knew she was a doll. She is honestly the nicest person, so lovely and gifted, but also a wonderful mother and completely down to earth.”

    Rounding out the international cast are American born Peter Sarsgaard and Alan Arkin (a recent Oscar winner for Little Miss Sunshine); Israeli actor Igal Naor; Moroccan actress Zineb Oukach; and Algerian actor Moa Khouas.

    The topic of “extraordinary rendition” was a daily topic of discussion on the set – from the actors to the filmmakers to the international crew. It remained a hot button issue that fueled a lot of differing opinions. “My reaction when I first learned of ‘extraordinary rendition’ was pretty much disbelief that it was happening,” says Reese Witherspoon. It just doesn’t seem altogether American, to detain people without due process, and without the opportunity to be charged with a crime and to go through a proper trial. And that there is no legal recourse for people who have endured this type of torture is shocking. I am really proud to be part of a project that is bringing this practice to the public’s attention.”

    “At the same time,” Witherspoon adds, “it’s a very complicated issue. I’m an actor. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have the responsibility for maintaining national security. There are always two sides of every coin, and I hope this movie shows both sides of this issue.”

    “I think one of the dilemmas for us in the West, and in particular here in America, is we find torture unpalatable,” says Gavin Hood. “We don’t do that. But the attitude is, ‘hey, if it’s gotta be done, just don’t tell me about it.’ And that’s where you get the concept of outsourcing the torture…’well, these countries do it anyway, so let them do it.’ That’s a moral cop-out. Just because you are removed from it doesn’t mean you are not involved. The other question is, does torture work? It’s apparent to enormous numbers of military lawyers, FBI agents, CIA agents…not just myself. It’s apparent to a great number of people actually involved in the process that it frequently results in poor intelligence. The information you get is often bad because the person you are getting it from is terrified and wants whatever you are doing to them to stop. They will say what you want to hear so you will stop torturing them.”

    Executive producer Bill Todman, Jr. feels that “If a person is rendered and our government let’s that person go and they go to New York and blow up another building, is that right or wrong? If a government renders somebody and treats them and interrogates them in ways we would never do in the United States, and they are innocent . . .is that right or wrong? I am not sure if I have a firm perspective about it.”

    “In terms of survival of this country, and fighting for everything that we started out with, I do think the way we deal with things will have to change somewhat,” says Peter Sarsgaard. “It’s just by how much. And if by compromising what we do, do we become a country that we don’t want to be? Is it important to sacrifice one man for the benefit of 7,000. I think it ‘s wrong but it is a compelling argument. Rendition is something that our government could decide not to do anymore. But even if rendition goes away, there will be something else, some other way. We will be living with this for a long time.” [...]
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