'The Unknown Known' looks for meaning in Rumsfeld's 'sea of words'

Tue Apr 1, 2014 5:32pm EDT
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By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After 11 days of interviews, Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris felt he was hardly closer to understanding Donald Rumsfeld than when he first began to work on the documentary "The Unknown Known."

The film, which gets its title from the former U.S. defense secretary's famous answer about "known knowns" and "known unknowns" to a reporter's straightforward question, offers the architect of the 2003 Iraq war and its troubled occupation the platform to explain his worldview and rationale.

"I thought this would be a way in, a way of investigating that question of how we ended up in the place we did," Morris said in an interview ahead of the film's release in U.S. theaters on Friday after its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado in August.

But Morris, best known for documentaries "The Thin Blue Line" and "The Fog of War," said he found that when given the chance, Rumsfeld was able to do little more than articulating shallow maxims and self-fulfilling generalizations, what Morris termed "principles you might find in a Chinese fortune cookie."

"Absence of evidence is not an evidence of absence," the 81-year-old, who served as secretary of defense for Republican Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, repeats in the documentary.

"Some things work out, some things don't. ... If that's a lesson, yes, it's a lesson," is another statement that Morris cannot quite get Rumsfeld himself to pin down.

"What really fascinates me is that people were taken in by all of this - this sea of words," Morris said about the Rumsfeld, who was known to enjoy speaking with the media at length and pontificating about his ideas.

"I don't know if he sees himself clearly at all," he added.   Continued...

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