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Errol Morris on Why He Uses Reenactments in His Abu Ghraib Documentary

Morris at Monday's screening.Photo: Getty Images


Errol Morris spent two years making Standard Operating Procedure, his in-depth analysis of the Abu Ghraib photos. "This was actually relatively quick for me," the decorated documentarian told us Monday night at an advance screening at MoMA. "The time spent is cajoling people. Getting the people to talk to you." He had to wait two years for Lynndie England to get out of prison. And this being Errol Morris, he didn't just swing by her living room with his handheld camera. "I'm putting them in a studio with a crew of like 20 or 30 people. There's makeup, there's hair, there's wardrobe. These newfangled digital cameras, there's a guy who has to deal with that. There's my producer, gaffers, grips."

Ever since his groundbreaking 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line, Morris has taken heat for relying on dramatic reenactments. Standard Operating Procedure is full of them, from a snarling attack dog to an Iraqi detainee having his eyebrows shaved off, nearly all of them filmed in extreme close-up. (He discusses the use of reenactments at great length in a recent entry on his New York Times blog, Zoom.) On Monday night, Morris insisted they're necessary. "It's a movie taking you into a series of photographs. How do you take someone into the moment that a photograph is taken? How do you create a context around it? I did it in this movie with retrospective accounts, first-person accounts of the people who were there when the pictures were taken, and things that bring you into that moment. No reenactments, no movie." —Darrell Hartman