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Seven Questions: A Chat with Blood Diamond Director Ed Zwick

The diamond industry is abuzz over the new film Blood Diamond, a fictional account of rebel militias in Sierra Leone fueling a bloody civil war through the sale of the precious gems. FP sat down with the film’s director, Ed Zwick, to talk about conflict diamonds, child soldiers, and the responsibilities of a consumer society.


Follow a diamonds path from the mines of Africa to the showrooms of Paris in this exclusive photo essay. more

FOREIGN POLICY: Blood Diamond stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an African mercenary on the hunt for a massive pink diamond. He promises to help a poor black fisherman find his kidnapped son in exchange for help locating the gemstone. Where did you get the idea for a story about conflict diamonds in West Africa?

Edward Zwick: Ten years ago, there was a rather unfortunate, Indiana Jones-ish adventure script floating around Hollywood about two men who find a diamond in Botswana. A few writers took that piece and placed the story in Sierra Leone, and they invented a character named Solomon Vandy, a fisherman who is forced to work the mines. Then I rewrote it and gave Solomon a son. That allowed me to start talking about child soldiers, who became a central part of the movie. It also created a kind of equivalence. A man looking for a diamond and a man looking for his son provides an interesting juxtaposition. The child is the jewel.

The character that Leo [DiCaprio] plays, Danny Archer, was an American at this point in the draft. But after doing homework, you realize that, inevitably, [most mercenaries] came from some version of EO [Executive Outcomes, a private military company founded in apartheid South Africa that provided special forces to governments and corporations such as De Beers, during the 1990s]. By virtue of making him South African, you can have someone who could have been in Angola, someone who was part of a generation that grew up with servants they called boy, and who went through the transition [at the end of apartheid] and the dislocation that came after.

FP: What message are you trying to send to the audience?

EZ: My first goal was to make a good movie, one that fulfills the obligations of any story, which has to do with characters and drama. The film is really about the responsibilities of a consumer society that has to reckon with the fact that the purchase of something here has implications somewhere else. By putting your credit card down, youre essentially endorsing the practices that are involved in getting a resource. This place and that place are, in fact, interconnected.

FP: The World Diamond Council has launched a massive PR campaign to counter any negative fallout for the diamond industry. Before the films credits, there is some text that briefly describes the Kimberley Process, the certification scheme that the diamond industry developed in 2003 to prevent the trade of conflict diamonds. Was that something the diamond industry pressured you to include?

EZ: That text was always going to be there. It would have been disingenuous not to talk about the Kimberley Process or acknowledge that there has been some movement toward a solution. But I felt it wasnt incumbent upon me to be in a relationship with an industry whose job it is to enhance the image of their product. My job is to tell the truth about whats happening as best I can.

FP: In the film, Solomon Vandys son is kidnapped by the Revolutionary United Front militia and forced to kill innocent people. Was it your intention to focus on child soldiers as much as diamonds?

EZ: Very much so. To travel to Africa and meet these children and understand their debasementwell, it becomes the emotional heart of the film. The issue of diamonds in Africa is inseparable from the issue of child soldiers.

FP: The movie depicts child soldiers in a way Ive never seen Hollywood do before. The scenes were so jarring. What was it like getting the child actors to play soldiers and violently mow people down with bullets?

EZ: One of my consultants said that he dedicated himself to doing this movie because he felt that in Sierra Leone, they had not yet forgiven the children. He felt theres no understanding and very little reintegration of the children into society. Its been horrible. And making this movie might help explain to society what the children went through, and that might help them be forgiven.

When my own son was 12, we didnt want toy guns in the house. So he just picked up a stick and went, Bam! Bam! Bam! Thats the testosterone of a 12-year-old boy. The ease with which boys do something like that frivolously is right thereplaying dead and falling down and those things. Obviously when you do that in Mozambique [where most of the movie was filmed], youre stirring up ghosts. But we had psychologists on the set, and we did a lot of work with [the childrens] parents and teachers.

FP: Most of the blood diamond trade took place in the 1990s and since then, civil wars have ended in places like Angola and Sierra Leone. But other conflicts have flared up elsewhere. Does Hollywood contribute to any kind of Africa fatigue?

EZ: There doesnt seem to me to be Africa fatigue. Theres a rising tide of concern among activists, economists, and artists about Africa. Theres a temptation to think of it as a monolith as opposed to all these different countries with different problems. By telling the story of a small place, and suggesting that there are all these problems in it, you realize that all these places have their issues.

FP: After having done so much research for the movie, would you personally buy a diamond?

EZ: My wife has actually never been interested in diamonds, and weve been married for over 25 years. So, apparently I dont need to confer eternity upon the relationship. [Laughs.] I think what De Beers should do is say that their product makes a relationship conflict-free. Thats my latest idea. I think I just wrote their next ad campaign.

Edward Zwick is the director and producer of the film Blood Diamond, which opens in the United States on Friday, December 8.


Follow a diamonds path from the mines of Africa to the showrooms of Paris in this exclusive photo essay. more

FOREIGN POLICY: Blood Diamond stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an African mercenary on the hunt for a massive pink diamond. He promises to help a poor black fisherman find his kidnapped son in exchange for help locating the gemstone. Where did you get the idea for a story about conflict diamonds in West Africa?

Edward Zwick: Ten years ago, there was a rather unfortunate, Indiana Jones-ish adventure script floating around Hollywood about two men who find a diamond in Botswana. A few writers took that piece and placed the story in Sierra Leone, and they invented a character named Solomon Vandy, a fisherman who is forced to work the mines. Then I rewrote it and gave Solomon a son. That allowed me to start talking about child soldiers, who became a central part of the movie. It also created a kind of equivalence. A man looking for a diamond and a man looking for his son provides an interesting juxtaposition. The child is the jewel.

The character that Leo [DiCaprio] plays, Danny Archer, was an American at this point in the draft. But after doing homework, you realize that, inevitably, [most mercenaries] came from some version of EO [Executive Outcomes, a private military company founded in apartheid South Africa that provided special forces to governments and corporations such as De Beers, during the 1990s]. By virtue of making him South African, you can have someone who could have been in Angola, someone who was part of a generation that grew up with servants they called boy, and who went through the transition [at the end of apartheid] and the dislocation that came after.

FP: What message are you trying to send to the audience?

EZ: My first goal was to make a good movie, one that fulfills the obligations of any story, which has to do with characters and drama. The film is really about the responsibilities of a consumer society that has to reckon with the fact that the purchase of something here has implications somewhere else. By putting your credit card down, youre essentially endorsing the practices that are involved in getting a resource. This place and that place are, in fact, interconnected.

FP: The World Diamond Council has launched a massive PR campaign to counter any negative fallout for the diamond industry. Before the films credits, there is some text that briefly describes the Kimberley Process, the certification scheme that the diamond industry developed in 2003 to prevent the trade of conflict diamonds. Was that something the diamond industry pressured you to include?

EZ: That text was always going to be there. It would have been disingenuous not to talk about the Kimberley Process or acknowledge that there has been some movement toward a solution. But I felt it wasnt incumbent upon me to be in a relationship with an industry whose job it is to enhance the image of their product. My job is to tell the truth about whats happening as best I can.

FP: In the film, Solomon Vandys son is kidnapped by the Revolutionary United Front militia and forced to kill innocent people. Was it your intention to focus on child soldiers as much as diamonds?

EZ: Very much so. To travel to Africa and meet these children and understand their debasementwell, it becomes the emotional heart of the film. The issue of diamonds in Africa is inseparable from the issue of child soldiers.

FP: The movie depicts child soldiers in a way Ive never seen Hollywood do before. The scenes were so jarring. What was it like getting the child actors to play soldiers and violently mow people down with bullets?

EZ: One of my consultants said that he dedicated himself to doing this movie because he felt that in Sierra Leone, they had not yet forgiven the children. He felt theres no understanding and very little reintegration of the children into society. Its been horrible. And making this movie might help explain to society what the children went through, and that might help them be forgiven.

When my own son was 12, we didnt want toy guns in the house. So he just picked up a stick and went, Bam! Bam! Bam! Thats the testosterone of a 12-year-old boy. The ease with which boys do something like that frivolously is right thereplaying dead and falling down and those things. Obviously when you do that in Mozambique [where most of the movie was filmed], youre stirring up ghosts. But we had psychologists on the set, and we did a lot of work with [the childrens] parents and teachers.

FP: Most of the blood diamond trade took place in the 1990s and since then, civil wars have ended in places like Angola and Sierra Leone. But other conflicts have flared up elsewhere. Does Hollywood contribute to any kind of Africa fatigue?

EZ: There doesnt seem to me to be Africa fatigue. Theres a rising tide of concern among activists, economists, and artists about Africa. Theres a temptation to think of it as a monolith as opposed to all these different countries with different problems. By telling the story of a small place, and suggesting that there are all these problems in it, you realize that all these places have their issues.

FP: After having done so much research for the movie, would you personally buy a diamond?

EZ: My wife has actually never been interested in diamonds, and weve been married for over 25 years. So, apparently I dont need to confer eternity upon the relationship. [Laughs.] I think what De Beers should do is say that their product makes a relationship conflict-free. Thats my latest idea. I think I just wrote their next ad campaign.

Edward Zwick is the director and producer of the film Blood Diamond, which opens in the United States on Friday, December 8.

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