Errol Morris’ Donald Rumsfeld portrait, The Unknown Known, debuted in Telluride over the weekend and is running in competition here in Venice. Morris, the Oscar-winning director of The Fog Of War, which looked at former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, says he decided to concentrate on Rumsfeld after the publication of the latter’s 2011 autobiography Known And Unknown: A Memoir. It was then that Morris became aware of the Bush administration Defense Secretary’s “snowflake” memos — the thousands of missives that Rumsfeld wrote during his time at the Pentagon — which became a key element in the film (see video here). His curiosity piqued, Morris wrote Rumsfeld a letter and enclosed a copy of The Fog Of War. “His lawyer told me that I was delusional. ‘This man will never under any circumstances talk to you’.” But within a week, he had an invitation to Rumsfeld’s office in Washington, Morris told reporters today. Ultimately, he conducted 33 hours of interviews with Rumsfeld over 11 days in a studio outside Boston.
Despite both having held the same post, Rumsfeld, a key architect of the Iraq War, and the late McNamara, a key architect of the Vietnam War, are “very, very, very different.” The latter is “The Flying Dutchman”, Morris said, “traveling the world searching for redemption and never finding it.” Rumsfeld, on the other hand, is more like the “Cheshire Cat, who at the very end vanishes and is left with just a smile.”