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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Truth

by writer/director James Vanderbilt

When I first met Mary Mapes, she was in the emotional version of the fetal position. An Emmy and Peabody award winning journalist and veteran of CBS News for 15 years, she had been fired a year earlier for producing a piece for 60 Minutes II with Dan Rather entitled “For the Record.” The story, about then President George W. Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard, had been attacked for airing documents that were critical of the President. Before the episode finished airing, right wing blogs were buzzing that typewriters in the 1970s didn’t have the ability to physically type memos like this (they actually did) and that the terminology used in them wasn’t used in the Air National Guard at the time (it actually was). Nevertheless, the memos Mary and her team had acquired were copies, meaning carbon and ink testing were impossible. They had relied on four document examiners to vet the memos, but now, with public outcry building and several sources recanting, CBS News backed away from the story. Mary found herself fired, and now completely unemployable in the industry she loved and had climbed to the very top of. Professionally blackballed, she now received death threats. So it was understandable that when some Hollywood type (me) called and said that I thought her story could make for a great film, she was understandably skeptical.

Dan Rather was skeptical too. Mary’s “For the Record” story had unraveled a 40-year career in journalism in less than 12 minutes. As I sat with him in his New York office, sparsely decorated with mementos from a lifetime of reporting, he very politely listened to me pitch him his own story. It is an odd thing to tell someone “I want to make a movie about you. But not about all the amazing things you’ve done or the triumphs you’ve had; no, I want to make a movie about the worst thing that ever happened to you professionally. I want to memorialize that experience on film.”

Both Mary and Dan had every right to tell me to keep on walking, but they didn’t. They invited me into their homes and their lives, as did countless others who I interviewed both on and off the record, in preparation of making the movie.

At its core, Truth is not a political film. It’s about journalism, and the dangers and pitfalls reporters go through to bring us stories. And at the center of it are two fascinating characters, played by two incredible actors. Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford are the actors of their respective generations, and to watch them spar together onscreen for the first time ever is a treat. Cate and Bob as Dan and Mary are spectacular; funny, smart and ultimately heartbreaking.

I called the movie Truth not because it is a documentary, but because it is the thing that everyone in the movie is after—it’s dangerous, and elusive, and slippery, and it can cause whole careers to crash on the rocks in pursuit of it. But it’s still vital.

I hope you agree, and I invite you to come check out what all the fuss is about.

October 27, 2015