Writer and Director Paul Krik answered a few questions about his film Able Danger in an e-mail interview with Foreign Policy Journal.
What are some of your influences as a filmmaker and how does Able Danger reflect those influences?
Clearly Able Danger is an homage to The Maltese Falcon, so I’d have to say John Huston is a hero. But I’m more of a fan of Dashiel Hammet [creator of Sam Spade, the hero in The Maltese Falcon] in that sense. [Stanley] Kubrick is the all time greatest, and Dr. Strangelove embodies the perfect film; one that makes you laugh at the absurdity of our “leaders” and shit your pants in fear of real Armageddon. Pi by [Darren] Aronofsky is the film that really cracked through into my frontal lobes in a way that I wanted to emulate. But the quirky we-know-more-than-you-comedy of films like Repo Man and Pulp Fiction and their glowing McGuffins are the things cult movies are made of.
How did you come to decide to do this story in the style of film noir?
Noir film is the product of an acknowledgement of the depraved nature of the human condition. It is a staring at the abyss of hapless moral relativism and spinning a good yarn about an imperfect character who at least still has a backbone to rise out of the muck and defy, despite his flaws, the inevitable demise of the world around him. Just as noir was originally inspired by the wars that exposed the moral depths [to which] a civilized world could descend, today we face a new paradigm of Machiavellian evil in the form of the puppet president of the United States who serves an agenda most epitomized by the think-tank The Project for a New American Century, who, a year before the World Trade towers went down, called for a need for a “new Pearl Harbor” to motivate the American public to get behind the war machine to enter into a Middle East battleground to protect American interests into the future. So far everything has gone according to plan. All these things have come to pass. Reality is more noir than noir, but we’re in denial.
The main character in the film is clearly based on Sander Hicks, the owner of the real Vox Pop and author of the book [The Big Wedding] attributed to Thomas Flynn in the movie. He receives a special thanks in the credits. How did this aspect of the script come about, and to what extent was Sander involved?
Sander served as an inspiration for the film. I live two blocks away from where he opened his first cafe, Vox Pop, and immediately fell in love with the place where my community in Brooklyn could go and share ideas and community and books that are hard to find in mainstream locales. If there were Vox Pops everywhere there was a Starbucks, the world would be a decidedly more enlightened, and if you believe in the power of the human mind, better place. I wanted to make this character, this “truther”, this committed and moralistic businessman — a hero. In this age of media oligarchy, I think Sander is a true and quixotic hero. And the odds against him just make him more heroic. Sander was not involved in the creative process of making the film. The main character owns the cafe and wrote the book that Sander wrote, but he’s not trying to “be” Sander Hicks. Sander doesn’t ride a bike, I do.
To what further extent was the character of Thomas Flynn based upon yourself; or, to put it another way, in what other ways do you relate yourself to the character?
Hmm. Okay, I didn’t really mean to say that the character is more based on me by any means. It’s not. I do ride my bike a lot and find it an important personality trait — because that is what it becomes, a way of life. I also think bike riders happen to be among the the great clandestine heroes in the American landscape. We don’t pollute and we’re in training, ready for the collapse of the military industrial complex with no addiction to oil (except to heat our homes and cook our food and recharge our batteries of course). My main character, Thomas Flynn, is really based on Sam Spade — but Sam Spade the conspiracy theorist. The point was to conflate a detective personality and rigor of evidentiary judgment to a conspiracy theorist. I think conspiracy theorists — “truthers” — are more honest about the conclusions that should be drawn form the evidence than mainstream sources. Occam’s Razor favors conspiracy theory and Sam Spade favors Occam’s Razor.
There is an undercurrent of religion throughout the film. Religious icons appear in numerous scenes. At one point, Thomas Flynn tells his interviewer when asked if he’s religious, “I have faith”. But his faith is something he struggles with throughout the film. In another humorous moment in the film, he says “I’m a good Catholic boy” just before taking a swig of Jose Cuervo from the bottle. What is the message with regard to religion, be it Christianity or Islam, that you intended to communicate to viewers by means of Flynn’s struggle with his own faith?
Is it up to me to reduce the religious message of the film to a sentence? I’ll leave the message of the film to critics and audiences to interpret as they see fit. If I were watching this movie, I think I would say that our hero wrestles with the inherent contradiction of being a Catholic, or a person of any faith; of trying to be rational in the context of a decidedly irrational belief system. By definition, the greater the faith, the greater the irrationality of an individual. If I were watching the film, I would say that our hero, Tom Flynn has read a bit of Marx and understands what he means when he says that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” He’s read enough Machiavelli to understand that “The Prince” in human form is our current president, whose only appeal to the masses is his hypocritical “religion.” Tom Flynn probably believes Luther when he explains to him that he has pierced the veil of the great American propaganda — that 9/11 was designed to create, or rejuvinate, an enemy in the minds of the American public so that we could be motivated to kill Muslims. Americans are now okay with it. We’re on a Crusade. I would say that Tom Flynn has finally decided he wants nothing to do with it; his rational side wins out — that perhaps it’s the irrational belief system itself that is the problem. It’s time for the second enlightenment. Obama time.
Do you think the U.S. under an Obama administration will take a new direction in its foreign policy, away from that which has been implemented by Bush after 9/11?
Yes, of course. Obama is a multicultural person. He gets the world and I think the world gets him, or will. I write this days before the election and as much as I’d like to believe the polls and the statistics that it’s a lock for Obama, I know that New York is a total bubble in this country and have spent plenty of time in the Midwest and south to know that between the profound ignorance in this country that leads to racism and with voter fraud issues in the last two elections that anything is possible. But nonetheless I have great hope for Obama and believe he stands in a perfect position to lead America and the world on the next great wave of rational multi-culturalistic capitalism. America leads the world in nothing other than a rational hope and a dream for the future. And the last eight years we’ve let the world down and brought America to the edge of the abyss.
The film is based on a real military operation. To what extent, if any, is the film intended to introduce viewers to the real Able Danger who may not have ever heard of it, and to what extent was Able Danger just an intriguing aspect of 9/11 that you thought could make an interesting fiction film — with the drive containing the data from the operation serving as the “McGuffin”?
You mean that the film was also intended to make people aware of certain aspects of 9/11 like Able Danger, while also having it serve as inspiration for an interesting McGuffin?
Precisely. I’ve blogged a bit about my McGuffin thoughts here: http://www.abledangerthemovie.com/blog/?p=120.
Who is your intended audience for this film?
People who like to go out on a date to the movie. I think you’re very likely to get lucky after this movie if you go with a date.
There are three basic schools of thought on 9/11. There’s the official version of what happened that everyone is familiar with. Then there’s the theory that the government knew an attack was coming and allowed it to happen. And finally there’s the theory that elements of the government actually orchestrated and facilitated the attacks. What are your own thoughts on 9/11?
My thoughts are the the truth is assuredly not available to us but that there has very clearly been great efforts by our intelligence agencies to dispose of the “truth.”
We’ve already discussed Sander. I also noticed when Flynn is typing up his story on Atta’s friend who claimed to be working for the CIA, the name “Hopsicker” appears. Is this Daniel Hopsicker? What other individuals have influenced your thoughts on the matter or had some influence on the film’s script? Who else would you recommend to people that they listen to or check out their writing in an effort to seek out that hidden truth?
On the matter of 9/11 truth? Daniel Hopsicker, yes. A lot of Webster Tarpley in there. Anthony Sutton. Jake from Chinatown. I’m a big fan of conspiracy movies. Parallax View.The Conversation. Original Manchurian Candidate, Dr. Strangelove, etc.
How do you think your film will be/has been received by the “9/11 truth” movement?
Most “truthers” get it. I had the 9/11 ballot initiative (www.nyc911initiative.org) out collecting signatures all day before the film opened the Brooklyn International Film Festival. I’m not a priority for them to promote because they are industriously producing and promoting their own documentarian agenda. But they get that if this film can break into the mainstream a bit, then many more people will have to face issues that are important to them.
A number of fiction films have included factual pieces of information concerning 9/11. Two that come instantly to mind are in Casino Royale when “M” tells 007 about the insider trading that occurred just before the attacks and A Mighty Heart about the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl starring Angelina Jolie, which mentions the head of Pakistan’s ISI spy agency authorizing the transfer of $100,000 to Mohammed Atta in Florida. There are of course any number of educational documentary films and videos on the subject. A lot of people might not be so interested in sitting down to watch a documentary on the topic, but would certainly watch an entertaining movie. So it certainly helps expose people to things they might not have ever heard of before. But there is also the risk that those same people might walk away not knowing that certain elements of the movie were actually based on fact. How many people walked out of Casino Royale or A Mighty Heart thinking the bit about the insider trading or the ISI chief was just another fictional plot element? If the purpose is not only to entertain, but also to educate, how does a filmmaker handle the subject matter in a way that lessens the risk that the audience doesn’t walk away thinking that such information was just part of the fiction? What did you do in making this film to help ensure that people walk away knowing that certain pieces of information are not only elements of a fictional story, but are based on fact?
There is never a guarantee that people will take the things that I put into a fictional narrative for the truth. But there is no guarantee when a “truther” tells facts via a documentary or book or whatever that anyone will take his facts for [being] true, either. With regard to 9/11 truth, there are few facts that seem indisputable. With 9/11, we are dealing in the realm of myth — where facts actually count for very little. It’s about creating a weltanschauung — a worldview that makes sense. We live in a post 9/11 world, as the neocons are so fond of saying, and that’s like saying it’s A.D. vs. B.C. In the film I tried to create a window into a universe where alternative explanations for 9/11 are accepted as potentially valid — where the cracks in the myth can be seen. Where the audience can see and therefore visualize themselves in a world where part of being a hipster is notaccepting the mainstream myth. Where being a bit of a truther comes into the realm of being a hipster — which basically just means taking every mainstream media story with a grain of salt. Where hopefully we can see and identify with a person’s struggle to acquire and disseminate the truth for no other reason than to serve the truth in itself. I see Thomas Flynn as a modern day Don Quixote taking on the windmills of “truth” of the media oligarchy. But the film is first and foremost meant to be a good date movie that will keep you entertained and titillated, and when it’s over I hope there will be a somewhat more enlightened discourse — and that will then then lead to seduction!
Watch Able Danger online in color on Amazon Video on Demand.