Filmmaker RJ Cutler talks about his Dick Cheney documentary
Depending on whom you’re asking, Dick Cheney is either the epitome of evil, synonymous with “enhanced interrogation” and warrantless surveillance, or the crusader for American safety that kept the country free from terror after Sept. 11.
To documentarian RJ Cutler ("The September Issue"), Cheney is, above all, a man of great significance. Cutler's new doc "The World According to Dick Cheney" gives the former veep a chance to tell his story in his own words, which are colored with the testimony of allies and critics, and some tough questions.
"The idea was: 'Here is a man who is as significant a non-presidential political figure as this country has ever known,'" Cutler says. "He's still with us. To hear, to understand, his life and times and his impact on America and the world, and to understand the implications of his actions for our democracy and what his career says about democracy, history would best be served by having his view of it on the record."
amNewYork spoke with Cutler about the movie, which premieres Friday on Showtime.
How long did it take you to persuade Dick Cheney to do this? I reached out to him, I think it was in August of 2011, and heard back from him January, February of 2012. The approach was that I was inviting him to participate in a film that I envisioned to be a film that told his story, with his voice as the centerpiece.
What's his reaction to the movie? He has seen the film. I screened it for him. One would have to ask him what he thinks of it, I don't feel comfortable serving as his spokesperson. After he watched it, we had what I would characterize as a spirited conversation about the film and choices I made. I think it's safe to say, were he making the film, he would have done some things differently. But he'd have to be more specific on his own.
This is sort of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't venture. You're either going to be criticized for being too soft on Cheney or too hard. My goal was to tell that story with Cheney's voice at the center of it, but to tell it truthfully, the way that history will see it to be true. This is a film made as much for people looking back on this crucial time on our history 10 years, 20 years, 30 years down the road as it is for people viewing it in this very moment.
What do you make of the criticisms? Certainly there are those who wish that this film was the trial of Dick Cheney wherein the filmmaker was the chief prosecutor. That's not the way I make my movies. Others would hope that this was a film called "Dick Cheney was Right," wherein the filmmaker was Dick Cheney's chief defender. That is not the way I make my films. I am perfectly comfortable being criticized for any reason. You make a film about Vice President Cheney, you should expect that you're going to stir great passion in your viewers.
We see him fly-fishing in the movie. What was going on a fishing trip with the vice president like? The one thing I'll specifically divulge about his reaction to the film, and I feel his pain, he was most disappointed that we did not show the 20-inch fish that he caught when he was fly-fishing. This was his first time on the river since his heart transplant and his return to form was impressive.
When he says he doesn't have any regrets about his vice presidency, do you think he's being completely candid? I think he was being 100% candid. He was consistent in responding to my questions about regrets or things he would do differently as well as volunteering his positions on regrets or things he would do differently. He is a man who is not in retreat in any way, and who strikes me as more certain today of the rightness of the decisions he made, the policies he supported and the influence he exerted to have those policies enacted than he was when he was in office.