Documentary filmmaking legend Errol Morris has built his extraordinary reputation on two principle foundations: what might be called dramatizations (he rejects the terms reenactments or recreations) and interviews of incredible insight and verve. He has conversed with a fascinating array of people — Robert McNamara, Donald Rumsfeld, Steve Bannon, owners of pet cemeteries, a woman accused of kidnapping and raping a Mormon missionary, to name a few.
Now, on Deadline’s Doc Talk podcast, it’s our turn to interview Morris, about his latest documentary, The Pigeon Tunnel. In the film, which is about to premiere on Apple TV+, the director trains his lens on perhaps his most elusive subject yet – the spy-turned-novelist David Cornwell, known to the world by his pen name, John le Carré.
Morris tells Doc Talk why his encounter with Cornwell made him question the very nature of documentary interviews. And he gets into whether any person who was once a Nazi can ever be considered an ex-Nazi (a conundrum that confronted Cornwell when he was posted to West Germany as a spy in the middle of the Cold War).
Morris also delves into the backlash he says he faced for violating norms of documentary by filming dramatizations, going all the way back to his classic 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line. “I did things,” he says, “that were considered to be illegitimate in terms of documentary filmmaking.”
That’s on the latest episode of Doc Talk, a podcast hosted by Oscar winner John Ridley and Deadline’s Documentary Editor Matt Carey and produced by Deadline and Ridley’s Nō Studios. Doc Talk is presented with support from National Geographic Documentary Films.