Posted November 7, 2012 by Alex Moss Editor in Features
 
 

Director Richard Symons


“What we call experience, the younger generation call a chain of mistakes … I don’t sleep at night. Never” Shimon Peres, President of Israel

“What we call experience, the
younger generation call a chain of mistakes … I don’t sleep at night.
Never” Shimon Peres, President of Israel

In
the second in a groundbreaking series of documentary films (the first was on Yasser Arafat), President Shimon Peres confronts his
conscience and talks, with brutal honesty, about the inner conflicts which he
has wrestled with during six decades at the centre of the Middle East’s most
enduring conflict. Co-Director Richard
Symons
talked to FilmJuice about
his experiences making the documentary which will be screened at the UK Jewish Film Festival on 6th, 7th
& 14th November
.

Why is the film called The Price Of
Kings?

We
were tempted to call it The Price Of Power but, after we’d interviewed the
first couple of Presidents, it became clear that that title didn’t quite
capture an important part of the investigation: what drives world leaders,
their motivation? It’s not always power for power’s sake though, of
course, sometimes that changes. Also, as we discovered, the power to control
the future of your people isn’t always quite what it seems, especially if you
pursue power for the right reasons – altruistic and compassionate reasons, for
the love of your country and people. That’s a noble pursuit and yet there’s a
hidden, darker price to pay, despite the fact that you’re doing it for the
right reasons. We thought it was important to capture in the title itself the
tragedy of there being a price for doing the right thing, trying to change the
world for the better. It all boils down to “What will you sacrifice for
what you believe?” and that isn’t limited to world leaders. Presidents
revealed plenty of occasions they were out-manoeuvred by someone not in power
who was willing to sacrifice everything for their beliefs.

What made you choose Arafat, Peres
and Arias for the first three films?

War
creates the most extreme circumstances, dilemmas, decisions and consequences.
These are men who’ve been called killers, murderers, been accused of
corruption, theft, betraying their people. They’ve sent children to slaughter,
started wars, and spilt blood on our streets. So it was a real education to
discover their regrets, fears and secrets. To be able to get access to both
sides of the world’s most intractable conflict was too good an opportunity to
miss with Peres and Arafat. Then, with Arias, you get to meet someone who
actually brought peace to a region embroiled in the most brutal of wars. So, across
the three films not only do you get a unique insight into the most difficult
circumstances a leader can face, but we also learned how two peoples can stay
locked in a war for decades whereas a third can bring about peace.

Where did the idea for The Price Of
Kings come from?

We’d been
pretty rough on the 50 or so ministers and members of parliament we interviewed
for a BBC film called The Ministry Of Truth. I think they
needed it but the process exposed us to the personal difficulties and
consequences of serving your country, trying to do the right thing for your
fellow men. We wondered what it must be like for a world leader where the
stakes are way higher, where there are dire consequences for mistakes. What
would they say to their children if asked about their conscience? I remember,
as a teenager, going through a phase of asking elderly people about their
regrets and the answers always felt epic. Most of them said they wished they’d
been less selfish, thought more about other people and tried to do the right
thing more often, stood up for their beliefs. When I asked them why they
didn’t, the answer usually amounted to “wanting an easy life”. The
Price Of Kings was an opportunity to get answers from people who had chosen
against an easy life, really made sacrifices for their beliefs. It’s easy to
forget these leaders could have resigned at any point – why put themselves
through some of those agonising decisions – was it for themselves or for their
fellow men? Somewhere in there is the answer to both the greatness and flaws in
human nature.

Who was your favourite interviewee?
Time Magazine’s
Face Of Terror, Bassam Abu Sharif, the man who trained Carlos The Jackal and was spokesperson
for the 1970 Dawson’s Field hijacking (five planes were hijacked, three of them
brought down in the Jordanian Desert then blown up) was pretty impressive in
the film on Arafat. He had so many fascinating behind-the-scenes stories and
insights, we couldn’t fit them all into the DVD extras and resorted to posting
them on-line. Suha Arafat was
incredibly candid, so some of the things she said were a revelation. It’s not
often you get to hear the wife of a President talk openly about terrorism,
corruption, their regrets, mistakes and fears. Peres as well – perhaps too
candid. Ultimately we fell out with his office because they wanted us to change
the ending. Arias was a tough interview. He’s naturally shy, so it wasn’t
always easy to draw emotion out. Having said that, we got unprecedented
access to some extraordinary individuals across the board, many of who left us
in tears. If I was absolutely forced to choose it would be Arias, the
ex-President of Costa Rica. Maybe that’s just because he did the seemingly
impossible and not only went up against the superpowers, but actually delivered
peace against their will without the use of force.

How can you tell if a world leader’s
lying to you?

We
use this machine nicknamed The
Interrotron
for the interviews. It allows the viewer to look the
interviewee directly in the eye – like sitting across a table from them at a
very intimate dinner and allows the viewer to decide whether they’re telling
the truth. Often, it’s more revealing when someone lies. It gives you a
measure of how painful the truth is. Or tells you what they want to avoid. Also,
by comparing what one person says with some-one else’s perspective, a truth
emerges. Having said that, as you see in the films, it feels like these
Presidents were ready to spill the beans. None of them requested editorial
control. Only Peres’s office attempted that and we were by no means convinced
he was a part of it. There was a distinct feeling that they were trying to
protect the office of the President against his wishes. When he spoke to us
after a private viewing of the film he said, “you filmed my heart”.
We got the sense he was a deeply conflicted man – in the film he confessed to
not being able to sleep at night

Did you change your opinions of any
of the leaders during the filming?

Absolutely.
All of them. There’s no amount of reading that compares to the intimacy of
these kind of interviews. So you’ve always got an opinion based on what you’ve
read before you meet them. The amount we learnt, despite the research we’d done
was almost embarrassing. A real eye-opener.

We’ve seen world leaders interviewed
before . What’s different about The Price Of Kings?

The
candour. Almost confessions. They seemed open to being judged at a very
fundamental level. I think we were lucky in that they were ready to talk, but
then again, I haven’t seen many heads of state asked the questions we were
asking.

Out of these three, who would you
want to lead your country?

As
a nation builder, Peres was pretty extraordinary, as was Arafat as a
revolutionary, but Arias seemed to have the clearest convictions backed up by
courage. They all faced extreme circumstances, but I’d back Arias if your
country was facing war – though even he hesitated over solutions to the
Israel-Palestine conflict. Ultimately what we learnt is that it’s down to
political will.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com