Interview: 'The Unknown Known' director Errol Morris wanted more from Donald Rumsfeld

Documentarian Errol Morris ("The Fog of War") talks about his new film, "The Unknown Known," in which he grills former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Documentarian Errol Morris's latest is the Donald Rumsfeld film "The Unknown Known." Credit: Getty Images Documentarian Errol Morris's latest is the Donald Rumsfeld film "The Unknown Known."
Credit: Getty Images

 

“I’m annoyed by the story,” says Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris. “I just imagine that our public figures, the people we have given so much authority and power would more deeply reflect on what they’re doing and what they have done. Is that too much to ask?”

 

The subject of his ire is also the subject of his latest film The Unknown Known, Donald Rumsfeld, architect of the Iraq War.

 

The movie’s name is Rumsfeld doublespeak for “things you think you know that it turns out you did not," which is appropriate for this riveting look at one of the most controversial characters of the twenty first century’s first decade.

 

At age 81 Rumsfeld gamely allows Morris to probe into his entire 50-year political career, as both the youngest (under President Gerald Ford) and the oldest person (under George W. Bush) to serve as Secretary of Defense.

“A friend of mine,” says Morris, “who is a political journalist, we argued a lot about the line in the movie where Rumsfeld says that the policies of Barack Obama have vindicated the policies of George W. Bush.

“I wouldn’t quite put it that way. But he is right in one regard. Many of these policies are still around. They still exist. There are still military tribunals. There are still detainees in Guantanamo. There is still the Patriot Act.

“My political journalist friend said, ‘Well maybe, even though we don’t like to think about it this way, are still living in a Rumsfeld world. The world he created.’

“I think that’s what is really important at the heart of this movie. It’s not like the Bush Administration disappeared when Barack Obama was elected and reelected. It didn’t. Those policies still linger on for whatever reason. Perhaps because we have a Republican congress, perhaps for other reasons but they changed everything, but they didn’t change everything for the better and we’re going to have to reckon with that for many, many years.”

I tell Morris I think he should consider using the tagline “It’s Rumsfeld’s World. We Just Live in It,” to promote the movie. “Think about it,” I said.

“I have thought about it!” he quickly replied shaking my hand. “I like it. As long as we don’t have to pay you it’s a deal.”

 
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