As the nation holds its breath over conflicts in Iraq and North Korea, documentarian Eugene Jarecki believes that America should question the role of U.S. foreign policy now more than ever.
With his film "The Trials of Henry Kissinger," Jarecki aims to shed light on the secretive past of the former national security adviser and contemporary U.S. policy while encouraging citizens to voice their concerns about international affairs.
"The role of morality in foreign policy is in desperate need of an American dialogue, and we wanted to advance the dialogue about that very subject," Jarecki said. "I think that Doctor Kissinger really brings into sharp relief those matters for public discourse."
Jarecki's award-winning film, which opens Friday at the Chelsea Theater, scrutinizes Kissinger's involvement in the secret bombings in Cambodia and the murder of Chilean General Rene Schneider.
"Doctor Kissinger has become the poster child for the question of accountability in international law," Jarecki said. "The movement against him is growing ... and its progress is very much the progress of the quest for international justice and its applicability for U.S. citizens."
But Jarecki wasn't always such a harsh critic of Kissinger. When he was originally hired by the British Broadcasting Corp. to investigate international charges against Kissinger, Jarecki considered him a personal icon.
"It wasn't the most natural thought for me to be an adversary or critic of Doctor Kissinger," Jarecki said. "For me, making the film was a personal journey because I grew up in a household in which Doctor Kissinger was a childhood icon. My father left Nazi Germany a year after Doctor Kissinger, and very much in my upbringing, Kissinger was kind of an immigrant success story."
But uncovering the leader's shadowy involvement in foreign coups and acts of violence prompted Jarecki to remove his rose-colored glasses. Jarecki said coming to the project with little working knowledge of Kissinger's life lent the finished film an audience accessibility.
"This is not a film for policy wonks and Beltway insiders," Jarecki said. "This is really a film for anyone concerned about U.S. foreign policy in its history and the way its past haunts its present."
Just as the United States' past continues to impact current events, Jarecki said his own history in fiction films allows "The Trials of Henry Kissinger" to be both entertaining and informative.
"I think why the film has been successful is that I've tried to bring to the art of documentary making some of the art of fiction making," Jarecki said. "From a technical perspective it's much the same -- with one you're using ink; with the other you're using blood."
When Kissinger declined to be interviewed for the film, Jarecki called upon creative fictional techniques to tell a complete story. Subsequently, the film is woven together by interviews of the diplomat's supporters and detractors, such as New York Times columnist William Safire and National Security Council colleague Roger Morris, archived footage and television newsreels.
Jarecki cited archived interviews as especially telling pieces of Kissinger's personality.
"Just because he wouldn't appear in the film, that didn't stop us from very much having him participate in the film by including interviews that he has given over the years that powerfully and passionately address the charges that have been raised against him."
The result is a film that, Jarecki hopes, will open up audiences to new interpretations of history and inspire them to be more critical of their government in a time of international turmoil.
"The hope is that by ... reminding people and educating them about events in the past, you can help build the collective memory that leads to collective action," Jarecki said.
"(You can) alert and engage a knowledgeable citizenry that says to its government, 'We're watching, and we care about basic and generally agreed-upon norms of human conduct even in matters as complex as the interplayof states in war.'"
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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