Kathryn Bigelow is one of those deceptive people, mild of manner, graceful of limb, extremely smiley of face, and then pow-thwock, she swings into action, a tigress protecting her cub.
In this case, said cub happens to be the $40 million thriller ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, dealing with the decade-long pursuit of Osama Bin Laden by intelligence agents, and his eventual killing by Navy Seals in a Pakistani compound.
Kathryn Bigelow has been surprised by the controversy around her film 'Zero Dark Thirty'
From the bunker of her production and edit suite, Bigelow has emerged blinking like a badger into the harsh light of criticism about her scenes of ‘advanced interrogation’ from across the political spectrum. Those on the left have decided she’s endorsing torture as being instrumental to the capture of the world’s most wanted terrorist while, from the right, officials have complained about misrepresentative correlation between torture and Bin Laden's discovery. It’s a lot of noise that has caught her on the hop...
“One of the most surprising aspects is the film being mischaracterised as one endorsing torture or harsh tactics," she muses today. "My thinking was, you show a piece of history in the hope that you don't repeat that piece of history.
“So for the film to be attacked and not the people who authorised the tactics, it was a strange disconnect, it's interesting, it's unprecedented for me.”
Sure enough, Bigelow’s previous film, the Oscar winner ‘The Hurt Locker’, dealing with the high-risk lives of bomb disposal experts, had nothing like the controversy of this one, but she remembers people calling her pro-war then, too...
“How people could say that, when I was showing people... you’re bending over those wires sticking up out of a rumble-strewn street, hoping a sniper won’t call in your coordinates in the time it takes you to get out of there... well, I just can’t see it.”
Bigelow remains completely polite, but the speed of her words is a giveaway to the indignation she must feel at the disparity between the stories she is telling, and how they are received in some quarters.
Bigelow was the bemused subject of a Golden Globe gag earlier this week - “all totally surreal” is her diplomatic response to that (“When it comes to torture, I trust a woman who spent three years married to James Cameron.” opined host Amy Poehler) - but seems able to take the more serious criticism in her stride too... I ask her if all the critical chat makes her doubt herself and what she’s created?
“The short answer is no,” she reflects. “I’m really proud of the film. I wouldn’t change a frame. I find it interesting that this conversation has been stimulated, but it’s a testament to the power of the medium.
“There will be many more films, more books, more articles. This is the first draft of history, there will be many other versions.”
There’s a bit of a theme to this year’s Awards Season, with both Messrs Spielberg and Tarantino turning their attentions to some significant chapters in US history, along with Bigelow. Does she feel she’s getting a more forensic gaze than some of her peers?
“It does, but then these events are recent, and I think it’s been a long, dark decade for some of us who have been curious about what happened. This is a movie, not a documentary, just trying to capture an essence of something and shine a light on a dark, obscured time.
“We were shooting late one night, we looked around and realised it was the one year anniversary of the raid itself. So there’s the immediacy of it, it’s a story unfolding in real time.
“It pays tribute to those intelligence officials who dedicated a large part of their lives, some with the ultimate sacrifice, to this particular operation, and I have tremendous admiration for those individuals.”
So, painting the colours of war in all its horror, while paying tribute to the protagonists involved? No wonder it’s complicated. Is Bigelow expecting too much of critics and cinema-goers to accommodate this lot?
“I do value the intelligence of the audience," she emphasises.
"I don’t presume it’s my position to tell them how to think or react, or position themselves morally on this complicated landscape. I just present information so they can form their own opinions.
“My hope that is it has helped stimulate the conversation that should continue, not just necessarily about this movie, and will ultimately affect policies to come.”
‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is in UK cinemas from next Friday 25 January. Watch the trailer below...