Known for both his chilling investigative documentaries ("The Thin Blue Line," "Standard Operating Procedure") and his jovial examinations of the weird and eccentric ("Gates of Heaven," "Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control"), Academy Award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris has consistently been able to uncover various truths in his non-fiction expeditions. But these movies also suggest a creative asset outside the usual documentary wheelhouse; a responsive soul that shouldn't be bound to a single type of filmmaking. Morris's flicks, absurdly fascinating tales related with the breezy charm of an assured storyteller and punctuated with expertly employed reenactments, are singularly paced to leave you on the edge of your seat. Most importantly, in addition to his knack for choosing captivating subjects, Morris' respectful treatment of these individuals results in rounded, three-dimensional, human portrayals.
All of these qualities could very well be used to their fullest potential on narrative projects, but one lone blotch on his resume, "The Dark Wind," is the director's only attempt to date at constructing a purely fictional film. If Morris has his way, however, that's all set to change. During a recent interview with The Playlist, the director gave us details on a new film he's making, and provided updates on projects that have been in the works for a while now.
"Next up I have a series of non-fiction films and fiction films...[I'm working on] an adaptation of Richard Preston's 'The Demon in the Freezer,' " Morris said, revealing that new project as one of the handful of movies he's developing. Preston's non-fiction book ponders the U.S. government's relationship with the biological weapons anthrax and smallpox, focusing on both the "Smallpox Eradication Program" in the '60s and '70s and the threat of anthrax circa 9/11. While it sounds like a documentary work, the text is broken up into various sections, each in a different era and with a wildly different subject, ranging from Mark Buller, who attempted to replicate the Jackson-Ramshaw virus, to the personal story of smallpox fighter Lawrence Brilliant. Whether it will it be a fractured POV with various protagonists a la "Traffic" or merely a jumping-off point for something else, the director wouldn't say.
Meanwhile, the previously announced films "We Froze The First Man" and "The End of Everything" are still chugging along at various speeds. We first reported on the latter in 2008, a comedy with an outrageous plot involving a "wingless bird, 'Gone With the Wind' author Margaret Mitchell, a volcano and Laura Bush." Morris expounded on that film, saying, "It's based on a true story, one of my crazy photographic investigations about a place in the middle of fucking nowhere, Lason Island, a story I wrote about it. Lots of eggs." Ending on an even more mysterious note, he clarified, "Lots of albatross eggs."
The "Fog of War" helmer was just as cryptic about the cryogenic comedy, "We Froze The First Man," that has been evolving for a couple of years now, but was able to shine a light on the stage it's currently at. "It's coming along well, maybe someday we'll actually get to shoot it. I don't know if I'm at liberty to talk about the casting, but we have essentially been casting this thing," he said. Based on the titular Robert F. Nelson memoir and "You're As Cold As Ice" a story featured on NPR program "This American Life, the dark comedy will follow Nelson in the 1960s as he joins a group of fellow enthusiasts who believe they can cheat death through cryonics.
These all definitely seem to be in the Morris sweet spot of intriguing, odd-ball tales, and it will definitely be interesting to see the director bending the rules a bit in the form of a narrative feature. Still, sometimes the truth is strange enough, and this weekend you'll see Morris uncover the uncanny story of Joyce McKinney when "Tabloid" opens on July 15th in limited release.