Hailing from a country where an apartheid-era state death squad operated under the name Civil Co-operation Bureau, South African film maker Gavin Hood strips away at another sinister euphemism in his latest movie Rendition.
Speaking at a news conference at the Rome Film Festival where the film screened Sunday, Hood said: “Extraordinary renditions, enhanced interrogation – these are just fancy words. We wanted to put a human face to these abstract ideas.”
Hood was referring to terminology currently used by Washington to describe some of its most controversial anti-terrorism strategies.
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep, the film marks Hood’s Hollywood debut after his film Tstotsi won the 2005 Academy Award for Foreign Language Film becoming South Africa’s first Oscar-winning entry.
Rendition deals with the CIA practice, documented by the European parliament and others, of abducting terror suspects and bundling them off to nations where they can be interrogated with methods, including torture, not permitted under US law.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described “extraordinary rendition” as a “vital tool in combating transnational terrorism,” to be employed when, “for some reason, the local government cannot detain or prosecute a suspect and traditional extradition is not a good option”.
In the film, Meryl Streep, who plays a ruthless CIA boss, puts things more bluntly – if such practices help save lives then they are justified.
“We don’t have any answers, but we must spark a debate,” Hood said of the complexities involved in deciding whether it is legitimate to trample on human rights to extract information that could be vital in preventing a terrorist attack.
Jake Gyllenhaal, whose character in the film is a CIA agent who oversees the “rendition” of a suspect and is deeply disturbed by what he witnesses, believes the film does take a firm stand on one issue.
“Torture is wrong and as the film shows, it doesn’t work,” Gyllenhaal told reporters during a Rome news conference attended by Hood and Witherspoon also.
For Oscar-winner Witherspoon, the main appeal in doing the film was not “to launch messages” but rather the chance to identify with her character, the pregnant US wife of an Egyptian-born chemicals expert suspected of links with Islamist terrorists.
“Researching and playing the role allowed me to feel what it’s like to be part of a Muslim family in the US after the (September. 11, 2001) attacks,” she said.
“It made me aware of what it must be like to be subjected to racial and religious profiling, and it was interesting to explore such forms of intolerance which I have never experienced personally,” she said.
The Rome Film Festival runs through October 27.