Director Susan Cooper has done a real “tour de force” with this brutally real and too-close-to-the-sad reality shot by maverick photographer Eddie Adams. Indeed, her film, An Unlikely Weapon, which is narrated by the ever-charismatic Kiefer Sutherland, is sure to make you feel, more than once, that you’re in the middle of the war-field holding tight for your life. It’s a brilliant exposé about a not-so-obvious subject matter. So be on the lookout for the release of this movie, and meanwhile, let director Susan Cooper enlighten a little more about her direction and her vision for this, indeed, “unlikely weapon” sure to trigger revolutionary thoughts for a more viable peace and freedom around the world.
Emmanuel Itier: Why this subject matter, and what were you looking for with this movie?
Susan Cooper: I have always been fascinated with war photographers -- how they go to war-zones, into the line of fire to bring us back the stories in pictures. I wanted to show, in An Unlikely Weapon, what sacrifices are made by noble photographers like Eddie Adams.
EI: What was your biggest challenge with putting this film together?
SC: I would say the biggest challenge in making An Unlikely Weapon was the death of my subject. I’d given Eddie and his family my word that I would produce and direct the movie. While I was in Italy shooting another film, I received the news that Eddie had Lou Gehrig's disease. He rapidly grew gravely ill. I determined not to shoot him while he was sick; I didn’t want to diminish his enormous presence on screen. When Eddie died, I was devastated. I had no idea how I was going to make the documentary, but I’d given my word, so somehow I had to do it. My great challenge was finding Eddie’s voice when I didn’t have him with me.
EI: What did you discover in the process that surprised you about Eddie Adams?
SC: I was surprised at how much respect Eddie Adams commanded. Whoever I asked for an interview: Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Morley Safer, Bob Schieffer, Peter Arnett, and Gordon Parks...everyone, without hesitation, said "YES." I was surprised, too, by the enormous scope of Eddie Adams’s work. Who could forget the Saigon Execution? I think all of us know that photo. But here was a man who had covered 13 wars, six American presidents, and every cultural and historical figure of the last 50 years. His boat people series, The Boat of No Smiles, persuaded Congress to allow 250,000 Vietnamese refugees to enter the United States. But I also found the photographs he shot for Parade Magazine interesting -- the way he shot Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger with a rubber ducky, and President Reagan in a tank-top pumping iron... Eddie Adams liked to shake things up. Most surprising to me was how dissatisfied Eddie was with his photography. I think it’s a theme that resonates with artists in all fields. Rob Reiner at Castle Rock did not know me and yet kindly called to say how much he enjoyed the film and how he could identify with Eddie’s dilemma of never feeling his work was quite good enough.
EI: What do you want people to get from this movie?
SC: Eddie Adams is a hero to me. Here was a man who was not interested in self-promotion; instead he wanted to make the world a better place. I was very touched by an e-mail sent to me by a Vietnam vet, Matt Chapman, who is now a criminal attorney. He wrote, “Eddie Adams contributed to a better world, and so have you, as you have helped educate us about a truly compelling and fascinating moment of American history. Please know that the many people who see this documentary will emerge from the theatre better people than when they entered.” It would be my hope that the audience would be inspired by Eddie Adams and realize that they too can make a difference with their work.
EI: Why the choice of Kiefer Sutherland for the narration?
SC: Kiefer Sutherland, my narrator, is a friend and one of the most honorable and decent men I know. You can always count on him in a crisis, just like you could count on Eddie. Kiefer’s delivery is perfect. It’s tough and honest, just like Eddie’s character.
EI: What is the future of this film now that it’s completed? What’s coming next for you?
SC: The movie opens in New York at the Quad on April 10th. It opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Theatre on July 10th. In between, we are opening in many major cities. I can’t wait to share Eddie’s work and Eddie’s character with people across America. At all the festivals I’ve attended, audiences have fallen in love with Eddie Adams. I’m sure the theatre audiences will too. I have a deal for television in place, so I’m really excited. I am currently working on two projects -- one is my narrative feature, called Rollerboys. It’s based on a documentary I made seven years ago about a cop in East L.A. who took a bunch of kids out of a gang and turned them into a successful roller hockey team. It’s going to be a gritty and heartfelt film. I’m also starting to work on another documentary, which is about a group of blind teenagers taking a road trip across America. It will be a great challenge for me to show Niagara Falls and President John F. Kennedy at the White House through the eyes of blind children. I’m passionate about using Andrea Bocelli’s music to underscore the movie.
EI: It seems to me that documentaries are a time capsule about our world for future generations. What are your thoughts about this idea?
SC: I do believe that a documentary is a time capsule of our world for future generations. An Unlikely Weapon takes you through the last 50 years of history, showing how history was changed through Eddie Adams’s lens. The storytellers in this film -- photographers and journalists -- are a certain breed of men: courageous, patriotic, prepared to sacrifice for the welfare of others. These men would die for a principle. I have so much respect for that generation of men. It is my hope that President Barack Obama can inspire these qualities in the men of our generation.