Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart"

SF360.org June 18, 2007

Prolific British director Michael Winterbottom, known for a large and eclectic body of work that ranges from the comic ("Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story") to the extremely sobering ("The Road to Guantanamo"), has done something very unusual in the past half decade. He’s completed three films in five years that return to one basic theme: The West’s relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan. "In This World" (2002) followed Afghan refugees escaping to England. "The Road to Guantanamo" (2006) was a dramatized nonfiction story of three British citizens caught up in the war in Afghanistan, brought to Guantanamo for much abuse by U.S. operatives, and miraculously returned to Great Britain. Winterbottom’s latest, "A Mighty Heart," took him back to the same war-torn terrain, but presents another side of the story in its rendering of Mariane Pearl’s memoir about the kidnapping and death of her husband, Wall Street Journal South Asia Bureau Chief Daniel Pearl, which began when she was six months pregnant with his child. Winterbottom, in a recent stop through San Francisco, spoke with Michael Guillen, who took part in a roundtable interview with other journalists for SF360.org, about his return to Pakistan with this film.

SF360: ‘A Mighty Heart’ is a disturbing view of the tragic death of journalist Daniel Pearl rendered through a dread-inducing procedural, but one of the most effective gut punches for me while watching the film was Colin Powell’s televised disavowal of the conditions at Guantanamo Bay. Is it just a coincidence that ‘A Mighty Heart’ dovetails thematically with ‘Road to Guantanamo?’ Was it meant to be something of a companion piece?

Michael Winterbottom: It depends on what you mean by ‘coincidence.’ I think part of the reason I was offered this film was because I’d worked in Pakistan before and done ‘Road to Guantanamo’ (2006) and also’ In This World’ (2002) so it was not a coincidence in the sense that it was part of why I was offered [‘A Mighty Heart’]. I had already finished ‘Guantanamo’ when I was offered this film.

SF360: And you had no resistance to doing a continuance of that theme?

Winterbottom: Yeah, I did have some resistance. Not in doing this film but in the timing of it because we’ve done films that are similar in the past but the next film always tends to be something different. We had finished ‘Road to Guantanamo’ just before the Berlin Film Festival where it was to be shown and we were due to do a film in Italy that was completely different, a summer holiday film. Then they called up at the end of April and asked, ‘Do you want to do [‘A Mighty Heart’]?’ I was like, ‘Well, yeah