Director Morris defends his 'smiling Rumsfeld' film

Wed Sep 4, 2013 2:59pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

VENICE (Reuters) - American filmmaker Errol Morris defended "The Unknown Known" on Wednesday from criticism he failed to ask tough questions in his documentary profile of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who oversaw the Iraq War.

Rumsfeld, famous for his statement that "stuff happens" in response to the looting of Baghdad after the American-led invasion, is shown smiling almost obsessively throughout the film which had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

A prodigious producer of memos, Rumsfeld also reflects on the meanings of words in juxtaposition, including his dictum that there are "known knowns" and "unknown unknowns".

The film got a tepid response at a press screening, with some in the audience saying Morris had failed to get Rumsfeld to face up to the consequences of what is generally viewed as a colossal failure of intelligence in Iraq under his watch.

"The question is in part, was I tough enough with him?" Morris said at a news conference at the festival where the film by the maker of "The Fog of War", an Oscar-winning portrait of Vietnam War-era Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, had its official premiere.

"I believe yes, I was for many, many, many reasons. I look at it as a devastating portrait, a frightening portrait. Do I contradict him? Quite often. But the goal is not to endlessly contradict him.

"I much prefer it - I hope I am not giving away too much here - I much prefer it when he contradicts himself, which he does unendingly."

Rumsfeld, who served under three presidents, agreed to do the film after Morris contacted him, the filmmaker said. Now 81, Rumsfeld was filmed responding to questions put to him in a studio.   Continued...

Director Errol Morris arrives for a photocall for the movie "The Unknown Known" during the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice September 4, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi