As a professional filmmaker, I knew the world was changing when Apple introduced a phone that could shoot videos at a higher resolution than the film cameras I used to make my first feature film, Swingers. I didn’t realize how these amazing advances were going to change my life until I started working on my current film, Reckoning With Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the “War on Terror.”
What I’m asking people to do is both simple and profound: to film themselves reading one of the 11 documents that make up the script of the movie and send me the footage.
These documents were among 140,000 documents that the ACLU uncovered through Freedom of Information Act Litigation—documents that revealed the scope and human cost of this country’s very un-American torture program.
I came to Reckoning as an outsider, as someone who makes my living doing fictional films, many of which are filled with tricks and manipulations to make them more exciting. But the material this project is based on speaks for itself. My reaction, when I saw the documents, was that there was no way I could not roll up my sleeves and help bring them to light.
I worked with the ACLU and PEN to stage and film Reckoning performances at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center. Extraordinary people have taken part in these performances: actors including Robert Redford, Dianne Wiest, Lili Taylor, and Ellen Barkin; writers such as Annie Proulx, Russell Banks, Rula Jebreal, and Sandra Cisneros; and most movingly for me, former CIA officer Jack Rice, former military interrogator Matthew Alexander, and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo.
I asked them to read the documents just as they appear, and as I watched I could see they felt the same way I did when I first saw the documents. Hearing memos, testimonials, interrogation logs, and autopsy reports that the government hoped to keep secret read out loud is a powerful experience.
History has repeatedly shown that human rights abuses can only be healed if there is a process of truth and reconciliation. If enough people in enough places do this one simple but very significant thing, we will be taking the first step toward making this happen.
And so a few weeks ago, I announced that I will be collecting footage of ordinary Americans reading these same documents, and the ACLU and PEN launched a new website, ReckoningWithTorture.org, that takes visitors step-by-step through the process of selecting documents, filming the reading, and uploading the video clip directly through the site. Today’s technology means this kind of citizen filmmaking has never been easier, and the quality of the images has never been better; smartphones, webcams and digital cameras produce footage that will be usable in our theatrical feature.
I hope everyone who reads this will visit ReckoningWithTorture.org and share this link and this project with their friends, their families, the neighbors, and their networks throughout the United States. And of course I hope that each of you will submit your own reading.