During awards season, there are multiple opportunities for filmmakers and journalists to engage in cinema dialogue. Usually, studios will offer talent connected to films that are being pitched for awards consideration. During the pandemic, these events (film junkets) have transitioned to a virtual model allowing more journalists from around the world to connect with film artists. On occasion, we will offer some of these interactions between Elements of Madness partners/contributors and the filmmakers in a new form, Q-Bits. Today we talk with writer/director Aaron Sorkin about the Netflix Original film, The Trial of the Chicago 7.
A film nearly 15 years in the making, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is directed and written by Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin. In a year marked by civil unrest and peaceful-protests-turned-violent, Sorkin believes that this is an appropriate time for the project to come to fruition. This film is based on the true events surrounding the Vietnam War protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the subsequent trial of seven of its participants. It stars the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and includes masterful cinematography, editing and production design by Phedon Papamichael, Alan Baumgarten and Shane Valention, respectively. This film might just beg the question: is history repeating itself?
Noel T. Manning II: Aaron, You are known as a meticulous researcher; you have always had command over dialogue, for television and for film, and your passion for narrative storytelling has inspired writers for nearly three decades. What was different for you this time in terms of screenwriting development as you put the Trial of the Chicago 7 to page?
Aaron Sorkin, director and writer of The Trial of the Chicago 7: I knew next to nothing about the Chicago 7. So I had to learn. There were about a dozen or so books, a giant 21,000-page trial transcript, and most critically, the time I spent with (Tom) Hayden (one of the seven defendants of the Chicago 7 trial). I would also say part of the research process, part of the creative process was talking to smart people who were around then and who were conscious of the events and listening to different arguments of who was right and who was wrong, and the degrees of right and wrong. There were people who believed the police were protecting themselves from protesters with glass bottles and all sorts of things. There were others who said that was nonsense, that there were a couple of glass bottles. So we got to hear those arguments and more philosophical arguments in the Tom (Hayden) and Abbie (Hoffman) vein. I wanted to see how much of other people’s intelligence I could borrow and inject into the film.
The film formed itself into three stories; the courtroom drama, the evolution of the riot (that was supposed to be a peaceful protest that devolved into a violent clash between the mob, the police, and the National Guard). The third story was one I was only able to get from spending time with Tom. That one wasn’t in any of the books or the trial transcripts; it was the personal story between Tom and Abbie (Hoffman); it was two guys on the same side who can’t stand each other; each thinks the other one is doing harm to the movement, but in the end, they come to respect each other.
Elements of Madness appreciates the opportunity to engage with filmmakers and the films they create through interviews, critical analysis, and topical engagement and open observation.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 was in select theaters beginning September 25th, 2020 and available for streaming on Netflix beginning October 16th, 2020.
*Kathryn Manning served as a writing and research assistant for this piece.
Noel T. Manning is a member of the CCA, SEFCA and the NCFCA and is also the host of the television program and radio show Meet Me at the Movies. He’s the founder of the Real to Reel Film Fest and is an adjunct professor of film studies. When he’s not embracing mainstream, indie, international, documentary or art films, he’s digging into the world of cinema by chatting with principle individuals involved in various aspects of the filmmaking industry.
Categories: Filmmaker Interviews