Pakistan at 'Heart' of Pearl story


The world might recall the images of dozens of motorized rickshaws chasing one of the most famous women in the world down the streets of Mumbai, India, during the 2006 filming of Paramount Vantage's "A Mighty Heart." But the film's director, Michael Winterbottom, has different recollections. He remembers how a Pakistani intelligence agent had the film's extras -- who received official permission to dress as police officers -- arrested for the crime of impersonating police officers.

"They weren't preventing us (from filming) and not telling us to leave the country, but at the same time, not being very helpful," Winterbottom said.

Winterbottom and his crew knew that shooting "Heart" -- about the kidnapping of reporter Daniel Pearl and his wife Mariane's subsequent search for him -- in the same country where the events took place was going to be a challenge, but for him, it was about bringing the audience as close to the story as possible.

"Given that one element of what Daniel and Mariane were doing there was trying to report and show people back home what Pakistan was like, it seemed to be essential that we try to film there," he said. Having used actual locales where key events took place, such as the Hotel Akbar and the restaurant where Pearl was kidnapped, the director said: "It's not only about being in the right country, it's about being in the right place."

Winterbottom, who worked in Pakistan twice before, first flew with a small crew to the country for a quick research trip. There, he met with officials and others involved in the Pearl story and filmed some second unit just in case the movie wasn't going to be allowed to lens there. But he didn't have to film on the sly because the country is more open than one would think, he said. "When you're there, Pakistan is a pretty relaxed country. It's like being with a video camera in New York. You're not being surreptitious."

For the Pakistan portion of the shoot, crew members took a hostile terrorist training course, which was required to get insurance. The American actors, including Angelina Jolie and Dan Futterman, had security personnel also assigned to them.

But that still didn't prepare Winterbottom and his team for the mixed signals they received from the bureaucratic system. Many government agencies in Islamabad, as well as police agencies, were cooperative and supportive, but others in the intelligence community were not happy. The cast and crew began noticing that people were following them to the sets and videotaping them while they were filming.

"They weren't beating anyone up, but they were clearly trying to dissuade people not to work with us," Winterbottom said.

In addition, "Heart" filmed five weeks of interiors in India, with a house in Pune doubling for the Pearls' home in Pakistan, the story's central location. Jolie's rickshaw chases notwithstanding, for Winterbottom, filming in the second-most-populated country in the world was considerably easier.

"It didn't affect filming at all, to be quite honest," he says of the press attention. "I'm sure it was a hassle for them, but (the photographers) weren't on set. It wasn't like people on the street hassling her at all. The whole thing with Angie was really just press photographers."

A harrowing jungle shoot for 'Rescue'

Director Werner Herzog is no stranger to exotic location shoots. The man who steered a steamboat across the Peruvian Andes for "Fitzcarraldo" and braved the raging oil fires of Kuwait for "Lessons of Darkness" recently tackled the jungles of Thailand to bring his Vietnam War drama "Rescue Dawn" to the big screen.

The film, which MGM releases July 4, captured a relentless Southeast Asian landscape that posed the ultimate challenge for actors Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies.

Herzog chose the merciless topography of Northern Thailand to fill in for Laos, where the true story of Dieter Dengler's tortuous imprisonment and impossible escape from a POW camp unfolded. Like his character Dieter, Bale ate maggots, swam in snake-infested waters and dodged deadly creatures during the three-month shoot.

"I was like: 'Look at that spider. It could kill you with one bite,' " said Bale, who also spotted random elephants traipsing through Herzog's shoot in the remote Northwestern Hill Country of Thailand, near the Burmese border. "It's an adventure to make a movie with him, and I think that's his point. ... It's about blood, sweat and tears. It's about jumping in and getting your hands dirty and just collapsing at the end of the day."

With no four-star hotels or Craft Services in the region, the cast and crew endured conditions similar to the film's subjects.

For Davies, who lost 33 pounds during filming, the visionary director led by example. "In film or any (industry), he is probably the most fearless person I've ever met," Davies says.

(Tatiana Siegel)