Posted at 4:37 PM on April 17, 2008
by Euan Kerr
It's always a little alarming to meet someone you are about to interview and he's barking on his cellphone. Errol Morris was clearly displeased about something. Then he saw me, smiled broadly, shook my hand, and went back to barking down the phone.
The issue was apparently his displeasure that there were empty seats at the free screening of his latest film, "Standard Operating Procedure," even though there were people standing in the lobby eager to get in. Apparently there was a disagreement with the distributor on limiting the size of the crowd.
Morris lost his signal as we got deeper into the building, and he got down to the serious business of talking about the film.
"Standard Operating Procedure" is nominally about the creation of the infamous pictures taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Yet it very quickly becomes a treatise about power, checks and balances, scapegoating, and responsibility.
"Standard Operating Procedure" is a remarkable piece of cinema. Morris was able to interview several of the people who were splashed across the TV screens of the world when the pictures were released.
There is Sabrina Harman, who reads letters she wrote back to the woman she describes as her wife back in Texas, describing her disquiet at what is happening in the jail, but also how she takes part because it's what is expected.
And there is Megan Ambuhl who was the other woman in a love triangle with England and Charles Graner the manipulative corporal who Morris calls the Balanchine of Abu Ghraib for the way he choreographed some of the bizarre and abusive situations at the jail.
Graner only appears in pictures and video as he is still serving a 10 year sentence for what happened.
Errol Morris says he's been fascinated by war photographes for a long time, and these piectures are now perhaps the best known images in the world. He says they are interesting for what they show, and what they don't show. He says after working on the film he's beginning to get a sense of what happened at Aby Ghraib, but he thinks the story will continue to come out for years to come.
Morris says what he can't imagine is what it must feel like to be these individuals who he says have basically become the scapegoats for everything that has gone wrong with the Iraq war. He hopes the film will re-ignite interest in further investigation of what happened at Abu Ghraib, and have the demand for responsibility travel further up the chain of command. He says even after working on this project for two years, the whole idea makes him angry. He also says he's ashamed.
The film is released in theater in late May, and we'll air his interview then.