Errol Morris moves from Iraq to comedy

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After two war movies, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris is moving far away from the weighty matter of his most recent work.

So far away, in fact, that his next project won’t be a docu at all but a scripted feature based on a true story that will contain comedic elements.

Morris will write the screenplay for the movie, titled “The End of Everything.” The film still is coming together, but its exotic plot is said to entail a range of subjects including a wingless bird, author Margaret Mitchell, a volcano and Laura Bush.

Morris is in negotiations with Participant Prods. for the project, he said; the politically minded banner produced the auteur’s upcoming “Standard Operating Procedure.” Producer Julie Ahlberg, who worked with Morris on his past few films, is on board to produce.

Morris most recently directed the 2003 film “The Fog of War,” the breakout docu about Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara that earned $5 million and won the Oscar. His “Procedure,” an investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal, opens April 25 via Sony Pictures Classics.

But the helmer said he wanted to turn to a less topical and more whimsical idea for his next film.

“I’m a funny guy, and I’d like to make something funny now,” he said. “I can’t see myself making one political film after another. I’m glad I made these two movies, but I’d like to do something different.”

Although the many elements in “Everything” would seem to make for an unruly lasso job, Morris has a penchant for pulling together disparate subjects, as he did with the exploration of four seemingly unrelated characters in 1997’s “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.”

“This is a new idea of how to blend drama with reality,” Morris said of “Everything.” Although actors will be cast and the script developed in the manner of fiction films, real-life photographs will be used as source material. Morris has a history of using dramatic conventions in docus; re-enactments in movies like “The Thin Blue Line” are credited with invigorating the genre, though they helped get that film disqualified from Oscar docu contention.

“Everything” will shoot partly in Hawaii, where the wingless birds and volcano are.

Morris has a wide-ranging, even dilettantish, set of interests, and a long list of extravagantly imagined projects that don't always come to term. Longtime colleague Werner Herzog famously promised to eat his own shoe as part of his dare to Morris to finally finish his first docu “Gates of Heaven,” a promise Herzog kept when the movie debuted.

Morris is embarking on a publicity tour for “Procedure,” a movie he said has an educational purpose despite the abundance of news coverage about Iraq.

“One of the sad things about any scandal, and Abu Ghraib is the perfect example, is that everybody has an opinion about it but not many people know anything about it,” he said.

Morris said he hopes that people will look at the scandal through a different lens, apportioning less blame to the military personnel seen in the notorious photos and more to their off-camera higher-ups who reportedly were involved in the activities at the prison. “I still find a lot of (the photos) puzzling and mysterious, but there are certain basic questions that I’ve answered. One of those is, ‘Were these people in the photographs scapegoated?’ And the answer is yes. Were they lily-white and blameless? No. But they were scapegoated.”

Despite the well-publicized commercial struggles of Iraq movies, Morris said he resists the categorization.

“There’s a feeling that all these movies are saying the same things over and over again,” he said. “And they’re not.”
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