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[HOLLYWOOD] Jolie/Pitt Making Film of Daniel Pearl's Murder

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  • madchinaman
    Battling Terror, With Paparazzi in Tow By ANUPAMA CHOPRA http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/movies/10chop.html?
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13, 2006
      Battling Terror, With Paparazzi in Tow

      "A Mighty Heart" concerns the murder of the Wall Street Journal
      reporter Daniel Pearl.

      A FRAUGHT conversation is taking place around a large, circular
      dining table in this town in western India. Angry voices overlap. The
      talk ricochets among jihadis, kidnapping, sensationalist press
      reports and the somewhat sinister role played by a secret government
      agency in all of this. A child's voice breaks the tension. He is 5,
      has spiky hair artfully arranged to defy gravity and conveys the
      nonchalance of someone not easily impressed. "Where's my mom?" he

      Mom in this case is Angelina Jolie, Academy Award-winning actress,
      good will ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency and co-
      founder of the celebrity entity known as Brangelina. Ms. Jolie's
      relationship with Brad Pitt occupies so much global media space that
      their first child together, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, was
      immortalized at the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in New York when she
      was only eight weeks old.

      But here Ms. Jolie seems shorn of every title. She is wearing a
      shapeless blue-gray tunic with gray track pants. Her hair is pulled
      back with a few curling ringlets falling around her face. She wears
      little makeup. Shattering her on-screen sex-goddess-with-a-gun image,
      she is trussed up to look 6 months pregnant. Ms. Jolie turns to her
      son Maddox and gently says, "I'm working, O.K.?"

      The job at hand involves portraying Mariane Pearl in "A Mighty
      Heart," a movie tentatively scheduled for release next June by
      Paramount Vantage. The film is based on Ms. Pearl's book about her
      husband, Daniel Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street
      Journal who in January 2002 was kidnapped by jihadis in Pakistan and
      eventually beheaded on camera. The book, written with Sarah Crichton,
      focuses on the four weeks of investigation, negotiations and leads
      that preceded a horrific end.

      It is a harrowing but inspiring account of one woman's struggle with
      overwhelming tragedy and her refusal to give in to
      prejudice. "Mariane has all the reasons in the world to be blinded by
      hate, but she has chosen not to be," Ms. Jolie said in an
      interview. "We are living in a time when there is a lot of anger and
      misunderstanding. She is really a beautiful example to all of us of
      what we should stay focused on."

      Events described in the book take place mostly in a house in Karachi
      where an unlikely investigative team huddled together. This included
      Ms. Pearl; Asra Q. Nomani, Daniel Pearl's friend and colleague from
      The Journal; a Pakistani police officer identified only as Captain;
      and Randall Bennett, a tough-talking American regional security

      The film was originally meant to be shot in Pakistan, but security
      concerns and visa delays relocated the main shoot to India. So a
      sprawling bungalow in a tree-lined gated colony called Sindh Society
      (locals have since renamed it Brangelina Society) in Pune, a growing
      information technology town, substituted for Zamzama Street in
      Karachi. Despite the presence of Ms. Jolie, Mr. Pitt (whose company,
      Plan B, is co-producing) and an international crew led by the
      director Michael Winterbottom, there were no trailers, no crowds, no
      glamour — very little sense that a picture with a big Hollywood star
      was under way.

      That's typical of Mr. Winterbottom. He has a distinctive film
      grammar, which blurs traditional boundaries between documentary and
      fiction, natural textures and stylistic experiments. He often works
      with people who aren't professional actors, and many of his films —
      "The Road to Guantánamo," "Welcome to Sarajevo," "In this World" —
      address geopolitical concerns with an urgent authenticity.

      Dede Gardner, the president of Plan B, sent Mr. Winterbottom the book
      two years ago. He was just coming off of a shoot in Pakistan and had,
      he said here, decided that he "was never going back there again." But
      he couldn't resist the story. "Mariane is refusing to be destroyed by
      experiences that could destroy a lot of people," he said. Referring
      to Ms. Pearl and her compatriots, he added, "The fact that Danny was
      killed but they refused to be defeated by terrorists, there's
      something very powerful about that."

      "A Mighty Heart" is Mr. Winterbottom's first studio movie after more
      than a dozen independent productions. When the deal was announced,
      Variety commented that the "quintessentially independent and serious-
      minded Winterbottom has become an incongruous supporting player in
      the Brangelina circus."

      But as Ms. Jolie describes it, he is still not making a studio
      picture; rather, the studio is making a Winterbottom film. "It was an
      agreement that we all had to blend into Michael's style, not to have
      Michael blend into somebody else's," she said.

      She added that he got the job over other directors precisely because
      he rejected Hollywood convention. "Some directors saw it as a heroic
      female movie," she said. "Some of them saw it as a tragic love story,
      but he sees it the way it should be, which is a collection of people
      who came together and all the different things that means and the
      different questions about cultures, faith and politics in today's

      The Winterbottom approach means making a film with documentary-style
      realism, shooting many of the scenes in chronological order, and
      relying on unusually long shots in which actors improvise their
      dialogue. Dennis O'Hare, who plays John Bussey, Daniel Pearl's boss
      at The Journal, compared it to "writing free verse." "There are no
      rules,' he said, "so you have to be really disciplined."

      Irfan Khan, an Indian actor who plays Captain, also praised Mr.
      Winterbottom's inclination to "let an actor explore." "There is no
      pressure from Michael," he said. "He lets you be."

      Still, the information overload in the film made improvising doubly
      tricky. Mr. Pearl's death was the result of several interconnecting
      layers of intrigue. Ms. Pearl and Ms. Nomani had to make a wall-size
      chart to make sense of it all. On the set actors struggled to create
      powerful drama while keeping the facts straight, all while knowing
      that the people they were playing might see the film and take issue
      with the performances.

      While there have been some rumblings about Ms. Jolie's playing a part-
      Cuban, part-French, part-Dutch woman, she said, "I do have the peace
      that Mariane and Danny's parents are comfortable with me, and that I
      suppose is what I need to sleep at night." She sweated to get Ms.
      Pearl's distinctive French accent and her direct manner exactly
      right, she said, but harder still was capturing the woman's resilient

      "I try to put myself in her place and feel that this woman didn't
      collapse," Ms. Jolie said. "She's six months pregnant. So for 21 days
      your instinct is just to be hysterical, screaming at everybody and
      crying constantly. But she just drove on. The real challenge is the
      inability to fall apart."

      For Dan Futterman, who plays Daniel, the challenge was to humanize
      the journalist who has become a historical figure. An actor-writer,
      who received an Oscar nomination last January for his "Capote"
      screenplay, he said in an interview in Mumbai that his main aim was
      to "capture the real connect that Mariane and Daniel had, to create a
      sense of joy and love so the viewer knows what's been lost."

      Mr. Futterman researched the part by spending time with people who
      knew Mr. Pearl. Other actors touched base with their real-life
      counterparts through the shoot.

      But Mr. Khan and the Pakistani actor Adnan Siddiqui, who plays a
      police officer named Dost, didn't have this luxury. Their
      counterparts in Pakistan, the actors said, refused to talk to them.
      It was simply too dangerous. Mr. Siddiqui, who is a popular
      television star, said that he was doubly careful of his lines,
      especially while improvising.

      "I'm taking care of my dialogue and avoiding anything that can be
      controversial," he admitted. "Being a Muslim, it's a tough thing, but
      I'm avoiding words which can get me into trouble. I am a bit nervous
      about it. Will I be safe in my country?"

      Mr. Winterbottom said that when the crew shot scenes in Karachi,
      sometimes at the exact locations where the original events occurred,
      they were shadowed by the Inter-Services Intelligence. While cast and
      crew were in India, newspapers in the country reported that Mr. Pitt
      and Ms. Jolie received threats attributed to Al Qaeda and hired high-
      level security to protect them. Ms. Jolie denied that threats were
      made but said that she and Mr. Pitt were warned not to let their
      children stand in front of windows.

      Will Patton, who plays Mr. Bennett, was also on high alert. Mr.
      Bennett, who met the actor in Kuwait before filming started, advised
      him to avoid certain parts of Karachi, and to make sure his room was
      at the back of his hotel. Mr. Bennett had received several death
      threats and thought Mr. Patton looked enough like him to be at equal
      risk. In the end Mr. Patton wasn't required to shoot in Karachi. But
      by that time, Mr. Patton said, he had made out his will.

      Mr. Futterman said that "a sense of unease" hung over the shoot,
      especially in Pakistan. But the problem that temporarily derailed "A
      Mighty Heart" turned out to be more prosaic than Al Qaeda: the
      paparazzi. Since their arrival in India in October, Ms. Jolie and Mr.
      Pitt were stalked by Indian and international news media. Indian
      newspapers brimmed with pictures of the couple and their children
      taking impromptu auto rickshaw rides and walks in the park. There
      were front-page articles of them visiting an astrologer who predicted
      that the film would fail (though Ms. Jolie denied this); of Mr. Pitt
      buying a sex-enhancing love potion in Jaipur (the headline read: "Try
      with curry, for extra hurry"); and of the couple adopting an Indian
      child (again Ms. Jolie denied it but added that they were likely to
      adopt before she tried the natural route again).

      The face-off came to a climax in Mumbai. On Nov. 16 the crew was
      shooting at the Anjuman-e-Islam school in south Mumbai. The exact
      sequence of events is uncertain, but sometime in the afternoon
      paparazzi and parents waiting to pick up their children rushed the
      gates and pandemonium prevailed. Ms. Jolie's three bodyguards were
      arrested for manhandling people (a parent accused one of them of
      shouting "You bloody Indians") and released on bail.

      The following day shooting was canceled, and Mr. Pitt found himself
      at the Mumbai police commissioner's office trying to make amends.
      Having until then studiously avoided the press, he appeared on a
      national television channel, explaining that he and his wife had
      a "multiracial family" and would "not hire anyone who is racist." The
      Mumbai police are still considering whether to bring charges. The men
      were free to leave the country after the shoot concluded.

      In an interview in Mumbai Ms. Gardner called the
      incident "bewildering and disappointing," but said she hoped that the
      film itself would nullify these various controversies. Ms. Jolie said
      her dream was for the movie to be screened in Pakistan, despite the
      continuing security risks and sensitivities.

      "We've come with a lot of good intentions," she said. "We are all
      terrified to get it wrong, because if you do, you could send a
      message that causes more anger and hatred. But if we get it right,
      maybe there's a little better understanding in people, and then we've
      accomplished a great deal."
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