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Ed Zwick on Defiance

Published December 28, 2008 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Paramount Vantage
Defiance Defiance
Edward Zwick often makes historical drama, from The Last Samurai to Legends of the Fall. Sometimes it is even a true story, in the case of Glory or his latest film, Defiance.

Ed Zwick Directs Defiance

"Well, it helps when the historical fact has intrinsically some kind of shape," Zwick said. "The one thing you cannot do is bowdlerize history. You can't reinvent. What you can do is compress, and inevitably edit, and dramatize. In history because it's the past, we don't really, we haven't been privy to the conversations and the personalities. In that sense that's exactly what we did, in the tent in Glory. I invented those men in the tent but Shaw was real and Cabot was real."

Defiance tells the story of the Bielski brothers leading a rebellion against the Nazis in the Bellarussian forest. The rare story is extraordinary but Zwick is also careful not to belittle anyone who could not take action the same way. "I'd say that there's a very important distinction between passivity and powerlessness. Passivity suggests people did something willingly. Powerlessness means they had no access to weapons, they were a stateless people, the neighbors were complicit with the authorities. The authorities were hostile, the plan that they faced was huge and well organized. The other thing about it is that we as a culture, Jewish culture has devoted an extraordinary amount to the memorialization of the lost. But in fact, in doing so, counter intuitively, has tended to ignore the living and those who survived and how they survived."

For shooting days at least, Zwick and crew took on the lifestyle of the resistance. "We were at Northern latitudes, because winter was coming. We didn't get light until seven, so we'd go into work at dark and we'd stay in the forest till dark. Daniel [Craig] likes to say that we did this deliberately, we parked the trailers far away that they couldn't get to them. But everybody was in that forest all day. We huddled together and we stayed warm around fires and we did what we could, in the same manner as those people might have, although we had a warm bed in a hotel to go back to at the end of the day and these people lived in that forest."

In one of the possible filmmaking moments Zwick was speaking of earlier, one scene contrasts a wedding in the forest, intercut with violent battle. While harkening back to the christening scene in The Godfather, the technique also solved some narrative problems.

"It was more a problem solving storytelling wise than it was referential, I mean I can see the relationship. I think it had to do with what we believed the title meant. Defiance, to us, didn't only mean revenge. It meant the celebration of life. It meant the refusal to have that taken away from them. To have love, humor, sexuality, brotherhood, that that's to me, what that sequence sort of is emblematic of."

Defiance opens to theaters December 31st.

For the trailer, posters, stills and more movie info, go to the Defiance Movie Page.

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Compiled By (Sources)
Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Paramount Vantage

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