Edward Zwick-The Interview

Bonnie Godas

In the last issue of The Mass Media I reviewed Defiance, which is a true story that took place during the Holocaust, and after interviewing Edward Zwick, the director of this film, I know why this movie is so amazing.

When I first met Mr. Zwick he didn’t really look like a big time movie director but a quiet, reserved man, an everyday guy that you would see on the street. But then he starts talking and boy was I wrong! This man is brilliant, funny, interesting, and so incredibly passionate for his art of filmmaking. His background in journalism, where the experience in writing and doing research for stories as well as his work in theatre, has prepared and led him to discover his amazing talent as a director.

In the forty minute interview, which included a wide variety of questions, Zwick answered questions about everything from budget cuts to how he finds the material for his movies. Here is a summary of what was discussed:

One of the questions I asked was how he finds the subject matter to talk about. It seems that his most recent films, all of which were big successes like Glory, Blood Diamond, and The Last Samurai were about war or a particular conflict like Defiance. But though they are about war, there is always a character that strikes us with special features that is hard to forget.

Zwick says he reads “promiscuously” and finds subjects that are interesting to him but he doesn’t search them out. It just happens. One of his friends came across an obituary in which one of the Bielski Brothers had passed away and soon he was researching the brothers for Defiance. By learning of the resistance of these brothers towards the Nazis, he found it was more common than he once thought that there were always groups of people trying to escape. At one point the resistance in Warsaw acted as the “poster child,” but soon he found that there were many similar incidents that were going on all over Eastern Europe, which fascinated him even more. When he is drawn to a story it gives him an opportunity to “texturize a story, filling it with a sense of place and a sense of time.”

When asked about the subject matter in Defiance, Zwick also talked about the humor, which is a huge part of the Jewish culture, even in the darkest of times. Defiance is about revenge and survival with the “willingness to live that contains romance, sexuality, and humor…” He continued to talk about the Jews, their survival as a people, and the interesting characters as well: “When you have two Jews in the room, you have six opinions.”

Zwick was asked to comment on Schindler’s List, Spielberg’s movie on the Holocaust, which was made about fifteen years ago, and to compare it to Defiance. He was reluctant to do so as he says that it not a good idea to compare your work with other directors “There is a danger there.” It seems that diplomatically it is the right thing to do, like not commenting on the new James Bond movie, as Daniel Craig is the star as well as the main character in Defiance.

I was particularity interested to hear Zwick talk about the acting and asked him how he picks his actors for a particular role. He compares it to such things as falling in love: “You know when you see it. Some actors, even [if] they are not technically trained, are deeply complex and can show it on screen.” He finds that people like Craig have a certain roughness about them, but his depth as a person made him perfect for the leading role.

Zwick was also asked about filming in Lithuania and the response was disheartening. In addition to the unpleasant weather, Zwick said that after being all over the world this place was not at all welcoming. “It is a traumatized place that has not dealt with the past,” and the people are not “generous in spirit; the woman in the store, the person on the street were very reluctant to connect.”

Historically the Bielski brothers’ story is one of the beautiful stories of war; how these ordinary, unassuming men during this horrendous time in history had become heroes, and because of inner strength sustained some of the worst of times. Those characters, I think, help to define the human spirit and Zwick shows that in his film, whether it be DiCaprio as the protagonist in Blood Diamond who is a “little off,” or Daniel Craig as the warrior brother and defender of the Jewish people. These are definitely stories to be told. When I asked him if he sees Defiance as a movie for future generations, as enduring as such films as The Diary of Anne Frank, he responded with graciousness and said that Glory had made it into the school curriculum and seemed proud of this accomplishment.

I have a feeling that Defiance will make it too.