Director Doug Liman Takes Our Questions

Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam (L) and Director Doug Liman attend the Skoll Closing Dinner at the High West Distillery during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2011 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Filmmaker Doug Liman has tackled tough topics before: His recent film FAIR GAME, inspired by the experiences of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown by a White House press leak, looks at the devastating consequences of unchecked political power.

In RECKONING WITH TORTURE: MEMOS AND TESTIMONIES FROM THE ‘WAR ON TERROR,’ the special performance he teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union and PEN American Center, as well as the Sundance Film Festival, to present at this year’s festival, Liman again considers those consequences. In the hectic run-up to the event, he took a few minutes to answer SUNfiltered’s questions via email, sharing his thoughts on torture, secrecy and taking a stand.

What is it about the issue of torture – and particularly torture conducted by the United States post 9/11 — that so resonates with you?

How could it not resonate with me? It’s just plain wrong.

Did your family background, your father’s work as chief counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation and investigating the Attica prison riot, factor in? And do you feel personal pressure to do work that can have a positive impact, in a larger political/societal sense?

I was really lucky to have not one but two great role models for public service — my father [legendary attorney Arthur Liman] and mother [writer and artist Ellen Liman]. I do feel pressure to do my part.

What message are you hoping people will take away from the staged readings of the formerly secret government documents on Saturday night?

First, I hope young people come away with an appreciation of how amazing our government is that inflammatory documents like these can be made public for us to debate. Second, I hope this actually spurs debate.

Do you think that Americans have become inured to the atrocities humans can inflict on each other, considering the images we’ve seen come out of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? And if so, how do you hope to shake viewers out of this complacency?

I do think we are inured to the atrocities humans inflict on each other — what we are not inured to is when those atrocities are sanctioned or even ordered to be committed by the Washington elite.

The documents that will be read from on Saturday night were secret. The subject of government secrecy has been much in the spotlight of late, given the recent exposure of classified documents via WikiLeaks: Do you think that classified documents should be aired in order for our government to be held accountable for its actions, or does the government have a right to expect a certain degree of privacy, in the name of security or for other reasons?

You can’t compare documents legally declassified through the freedom of information act with stolen classified documents. These documents are so shocking that they make a strong case that our system works quite well disseminating classified information without a WikiLeaks.

How would you like to see the Obama administration address the issue of torture?

I’m a pragmatist so I don’t expect Obama or anyone else in government to do anything if we the people don’t speak up.

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