RT Goes Behind The Lines With The Hunting Party's Richard Shepard
"Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true."
RS:I knew the basics of what happened, but I certainly wasn't an expert. My preparation was to read an enormous amount, and then go over there. I ended up going on the journey that the journalists take in the movie. I talked to people from NATO, and The Hague, I talked to a lot of survivors of the war, a lot of people who were journalists during the war. Was I an expert on the war when I started? No. Nor was I particularly interested in it. But I became fascinated by it; by how America didn't seem to care too much about the war when it was happening, and how we still don't care now. We pretend that we're all about justice, and we pretend that we want to capture these war criminals and put them on trial for crimes against humanity. It's important for us, as human beings, to at least have a trial, whatever the verdict is, but to have a trial and to expose these crimes. And we put these indictments out, but we don't do much about them. We haven't caught Bin Laden. We haven't caught Karadicz. And the question is, can we not find them, or do we not want to find them? I think it's that we don't want to find them.
RS:It'll be shown in Sarajevo for sure. I don't know about Serbia. I don't think it's going to be the number one film in Serbia.
The Hunting Party deals a lot with the humanitarian role of journalism. In today's media culture where we are oversaturated with images of war, do you think there's the danger of people becoming too familiar and almost callous to it, or will it come to the point where the horrors can't be ignored?
RS:I think we zone out, almost. When you see what goes on in Iraq on a daily basis -- more people dying in car bombings -- you almost brush it aside after a while. To actually comprehend the human tragedy of these events is overwhelming. We see so many images, but there's always the sense, for Americans, that it's not in our backyard. That's another reason why the war in Bosnia was so fascinating; because it really was in Europe's backyard. It was in Europe. And they didn't do anything about it for years. It took the Americans to end that war, really. That's a shame.
Is that why you repeat those images of Chuck Norris during the film, to draw the comparison?
RS:Right. As much as I like Missing in Action, I wanted to poke fun at these conventions that we're used to in movies. Chuck Norris pops out of the water and shoots a bunch of people in slow motion. That's not what The Hunting Party is. We cut away from the big action scenes, almost. It's not as important as the other stuff. Listen, I never wanted Richard Gere with a gun. It never was about that. It was about, can we make the story compelling, thrilling and scary at the same time, but not have to resort to bogus filmmaking. Even though that can be really fun. If I made a Rambo movie with the same opening scene, people wouldn't be upset. But immediately The Hunting Party is based on a true story, the disclaimer prepares us for humor, and then suddenly we see graphic violence. We don't know quite what to think. Whenever a gun does appear in the film there's a serious sense of threat. Simon and Duck take it very seriously, it's not just a prop.
I loved that about their performances. They played every scene for real. It's true. It's interesting: if you speak to wartime cameramen, they say that if they've got a camera they feel like the bullets won't hit them. It's a weird thing. They're not seeing it for real; they're seeing it through a lens. They're more worried about framing than getting shot. That, for them, is very different from confronting a gun without their camera. Which is why when you talk to reporters, the ones who were print journalists and the ones who were cameramen have very different views of the war. The print journalist is watching everything. The cameraman is also watching, but through protection. I think that's interesting. So the way Richard Gere and Terrence Howard played scenes when they're threatened by weapons was as realistic as possible. They were great. There was fear. That's just great acting. It's fantastic to film that stuff.
If you were a war journalist like Simon Hunt's character and you found Karadicz, what would you ask him?
RS:Richard Gere wanted to interview him. He made it public that he wanted to sit down with him. I thought that was brilliant. I was asked to meet with Karadicz's daughter. This was after we started filming. Had it happened before we started filming, I probably would have said yes. But we were already filming and nothing I was going to learn would change the movie. I was busy, and she wanted me to come to where she was, but I just said no. One of the things that most annoyed me was that Karadicz's denied so much of what he's done. There's not really a question to ask. It was hard making The Hunting Party because I can't overburden it with the weight of the reality of who this man really is. You can only suggest it. The bigger question isn't why Karadicz hasn't been caught, but why a lot of men just like him haven't also been caught. One day he will be caught. Hopefully we'll find out what the hell happened.
To end a little off topic, the film community recently suffered the loss of two legendary directors, Bergman and Antonioni. There seems to be a generational shift happening. I'm curious about who you think the torchbearers are for this next half century and where you see cinema going?
RS:That's a big question. Film is going to be great. Because of the technology and the internet, films will get smaller, they'll be more specific. Films will be made in three weeks instead of three months. From a creative standpoint it's really interesting. You know, we studied Bergman and Antonioni at NYU, but they weren't my heroes when I was growing up. Coppola and Scorsese were. When that generation ends it will probably affect me like Bergmann and Antonioni's passing is effecting Woody Allen. My movie gods are different than those guys. People starting out now might look up to Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson. From a filmmaking standpoint it's so rock-and-roll right now. There's so many movies. But distribution is so difficult. They're gonna have to figure out the distribution thing, because there's just too many movies. Eventually budgets will get smaller and movies won't have to make as much money. But right now what movies like The Hunting Party need is love. People need to hear about it.