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Errol Morris's Rumsfeld Doc Is Popular on the Fall Festival Circuit, But May Not Play the New York Film Festival

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood August 8, 2013 at 1:47PM

Already one of the fall’s more eagerly anticipated films, “The Unknown Known” – Errol Morris’s take on the beloved Donald Rumsfeld, the very idea of which makes our toes curl -- seems poised to be the biggest doc of the season. Word is that the film has not only been invited to the Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals but it's become the first of two docs ever accepted into competition at the Venice Biennale (the other being the homegrown “Sacro Gra” by Gianfranco Rosi).
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Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld

Already one of the fall’s more eagerly anticipated films, “The Unknown Known” – Errol Morris’s take on the beloved Donald Rumsfeld, the very idea of which makes our toes curl -- seems poised to be the biggest doc of the season. Word is it's not only been invited to the Telluride and Toronto Film Festival but it's become the first of two docs ever accepted into competition at the Venice Bienale (the other being the homegrown “Sacro Gra” by Gianfranco Rosi). 

But that doesn't mean that the latest work by the director of “The Thin Blue Line,” “Fast Cheap and Out of Control,” “Standard Operating Procedure” and the Oscar-winning “Fog of War,” a filmmaker who defines the state art of nonfiction, and a director who can also turn out a pretty mean TV commercial, will make the exalted lineup at this fall's New York Film Festival, which takes place each year at New York’s Lincoln Center, where one of the theaters, in 2008, was renamed for bilious billionaire David H. Koch.

Politics are not usually at play at this palace of high art, but it’s somewhat hard to imagine why else the NYFF would turn down such a hot ticket, even if by some chance the Upper West Side of Manhattan had suddenly turned into the 1st Congressional District of Texas (Louie Gomert-ville) or that Morris had suddenly become a lesser director than say, Ben Stiller, whose “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” has been chosen as the festival’s “centerpiece” film (always a backhanded compliment).

Maybe the idea of Rumsfeld being subjected to the Morris-designed “Interrotron – the same device under whose gaze another criminally inclined ex-Secretary of State, Robert McNamara, came clean in “The Fog of War” – would be more than liberal New York could handle. Maybe the Film Society of Lincoln Center would sell TOO MANY tickets. Maybe the fountain outside the Met would be filled, après screening, with ecstatic Democrats, validated in their long-held belief that Rumsfeld choreographed the Iraq War for no reason that he can now lucidly explain. 

We don’t know. But keep watching this space… 

This article is related to: Errol Morris, Documentary, Documentaries, New York Film Festival , Telluride Film Festival, Telluride, Toronto International Film Festival, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.