Errol Morris debuts ‘The Unknown Known’ in Venice

Errol Morris and wife Julia Shee-han at the Venice Film Festival.
Errol Morris and wife Julia Shee-han at the Venice Film Festival.GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

What is it with Errol Morris and US defense secretaries? First, the Cambridge filmmaker turned his camera on Robert McNamara for “The Fog of War,” an Oscar-winning documentary about the architect of the Vietnam War. Now, Morris is back with “The Unknown Known,” about Donald Rumsfeld, the person responsible for executing the Bush administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The director debuted the new doc last week at the Telluride Film Festival and then traveled with it to the Venice Film Festival, which is where we reached him Friday. Morris said he was frankly surprised when Rumsfeld agreed to participate in the movie. “I was told by his lawyer that he would never talk to me,” said Morris. “So I asked, ‘Well, can I write him a letter and enclose a copy of ‘The Fog of War’?” That’s what he did, and soon after Rumsfeld rang him up. What followed were 30 hours of interviews, done over 11 days in a studio in Allston. What do we learn about Rumsfeld? Does he regret getting the US involved in two protracted military interventions? “I don’t think regret is a word that applies here,” said Morris after a long pause. “If he regrets anything that was done during the Bush administration, he certainly didn’t express it to me.” Because Morris had developed something of a friendship with McNamara during the making of “The Fog of War,” we wondered about his relationship with the man Richard Nixon called “Rummy.” “I’d say it’s cordial,” said Morris. “He gave me an extraordinary amount of time and access.” Next up for the filmmaker, who’s in Venice with his wife, Julia Sheehan, is a screening of “The Unknown Known” at the Toronto International Film Festival, and then he’s getting ready to shoot a drama called “Holland, Michigan,” which has been described as “a suburban thriller laced with black humor.”

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