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WASHINGTON — Street protests greeted lawmakers, media and Sony Pictures executives Tuesday as they arrived at the premiere here of the controversial Academy Award-contending film Zero Dark Thirty.
Director Kathryn Bigelow, who earlier in the day received a best director nomination from the Directors Guild of America, as well as the movie’s screenwriter, Mark Boal, and co-star Chris Pratt, were on hand at the Newseum in central DC for the event. Boal and Pratt were set to participate in a post-screening Q&A with ABC’s Martha Raddatz and to take questions from invited guests. Other VIPs, including MPAA chairman and CEO Christopher Dodd, were on hand as the noisy protests out front picked up volume.
Protestors in the most prominent group, affiliated with human rights monitor Amnesty International, all were clad in matching orange jumpsuits with black hoods. They object to what they allege is the film’s favorable depiction of torture by U.S. intelligence operatives. One group member hoisted a sign branding the film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden a “Pentagon-sanctioned movie.”
“It’s an honor to be here and to be able to kick off the national release of the film right here in Washington, D.C.,” Bigelow told the crowd in introducing the film. “Mark and I are truly awed by the remarkable national conversation that this movie has spurred.”
“As filmmakers, nothing is more flattering, humbling and intimidating than creating a film that inspires thoughtful dialogue and debate on topics that are relevant and important. To be clear, we had no agenda in making this film and were not trying to generate controversy. Quite the contrary. Mark and I wanted to present the story as we understood it, based on the extraordinary research that Mark did. All of us were affected by September 11th, 2001, and the events that followed. Among other things, it catalyzed the greatest manhunt in history. Many of us know how it ended. Perhaps nobody knows every detail of how it happened. We tried to bring this story to the screen in a faithful way. As a director, I make a film, and then it is up to the audience to interpret. Each person will have their own experience with the film. This was a momentous part of our nation’s history, and we wanted to illustrate the ambiguities, the contradictions, and complexities of this 10-year search. There is a tremendous debate going on about various aspects of the hunt, some of which are depicted in this film. One thing is clear: at the end of the day, it took a selfless team of individuals, many of whom we will never know or meet, to carry out this mission. As filmmakers, we hope that this film honors their work and sacrifice. Thank you again for coming.”
Outside the Newseum, a variety of other aggressive protesters representing dissenting factions also were protesting, including one particularly assertive group of so-called “Truthers,” who contend that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government and/or Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.
Some of the slogan-shouting protestors waved signs calling Zero Dark Thirty a “fantasy.”
A number of members of the Obama administration as well as other elected officials attended the event, including Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Senator Mark Warner, Rep. Jane Harman (the former ranking member of the Intelligence Committee), Rep. Silvestre Reyes (a former Intelligence Committee ranking member), Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philippe Reines, and Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro. There were also a number of White House and Congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle, as well as Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security staffers.
Notable members of the media in attendance included Andrea Mitchell, Gloria Borger, Al Hunt, Judy Woodruff, and Gwen Ifill. Carie Lemack, a family member of a 9-11 victim and director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, was also spotted.
Rep. Jane Harman told The Hollywood Reporter after the screening she thought the film was excellent.
“There are parts that aren’t factual, but as cinema it’s fantastic,” said the Democratic congresswoman.
The torture debate has become linked to the film, which chronicles the decade-long hunt for bin Laden and the methods used by the U.S. to locate and kill the 9/11 mastermind.
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein joined colleagues John McCain and Carl Levin in accusing the film of endorsing the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques on detainees, asking distributor Sony Pictures to add a disclaimer to the film proclaiming it a fictional account of the bin Laden hunt. The committee also has launched an investigation into the access the CIA afforded Bigelow and Boal during the research phase of the film’s development.
The Zero Dark Thirty duo fired back at the senators while accepting the best director and best picture awards at Monday night’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards.
“I thankfully want to say that I’m standing in a room of people who understand that depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices,” Bigelow said to applause in New York. “No author could ever write about them, and no filmmaker could ever delve into the knotty subjects of our time.”
Bigelow’s DGA nom on Tuesday is part of a waft of awards bestowed on Zero Dark Thirty in advance of Thursday’s Academy Awards nominations, where it is expected to contend in several categories, including best picture. The film also is doing big business as it rolls out in selected markets around the country. As of Monday, it had grossed $4.6 million, and it is expanding into a wide release this Friday, including theaters in Washington.
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