The release of hundreds of pages of government documents Tuesday has fanned a simmering controversy in Washington over how much access the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon granted director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for their upcoming movie on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
But in Hollywood, the documents raise eyebrows for a different reason: They provide insight into how the Oscar-winning filmmakers behind "The Hurt Locker" are attempting to craft their secrecy-shrouded movie, which already had been in the works before the dramatic raid in Pakistan last May in which Bin Laden died.
The emails and meeting transcripts obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch reveal that the filmmakers got access to a Navy SEAL who was involved in orchestrating the raid, and toured "the Vault," a CIA building where planning for the operation took place.
The documents also show how the filmmakers are attempting to construct a narrative of the years leading up to Bin Laden’s death, including debates among CIA and White House officials and rehearsals of the maneuver in the final weeks of preparation.
“Part of the challenge for us is to capture how difficult this was because there is a version of it that in hindsight, it just looks like it fell into place,” Boal told Department of Defense officials at a meeting last July, according to a transcript. “That is why I just wanted to ask you hypothetically about what could have happened wrong, because it makes it more dramatic when it all goes right.”
The access Bigelow and Boal have had to CIA, DOD and other government officials is not unheard of for Hollywood productions. “Battleship” director Peter Berg embedded for a month with Navy SEALs in western Iraq as research for his upcoming SEAL film “Lone Survivor,” and filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd was granted an hour with President Bush for a 2003 movie he wrote for Showtime, “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis.”
Bigelow's untitled movie -- which is sometimes referred to by the name of its production company, Zero Dark Thirty -- commenced production in India and Jordan this spring, with a cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt and Jessica Chastain.
Controversy over the project first surfaced last August, when Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to the CIA and the DOD asking for an investigation into whether the White House had granted the filmmakers access to classified information that could prove useful to America's enemies.
The records publicized by Judicial Watch this week reignited the debate, but representatives for Sony Pictures, Bigelow and Boal declined to comment on them, merely reiterating the statement they issued last August:
“Our upcoming film project about the decade long pursuit of Bin Laden has been in the works for many years and integrates the collective efforts of three administrations, including those of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, as well as the cooperative strategies and implementation by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency,” the statement said. “Indeed, the dangerous work of finding the world’s most wanted man was carried out by individuals in the military and intelligence communities who put their lives at risk for the greater good without regard for political affiliation. This was an American triumph, both heroic, and non-partisan and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise.”
The movie is scheduled to open Dec. 19.
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-- Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Director Kathryn Bigelow and director of photography Barry Ackroyd on the set of "The Hurt Locker" Credit: Jonathan Olley / Summit Entertainment