The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld


1h 42m 2013

Brief Synopsis

This documentary offers a mesmerizing portrait of Donald Rumsfeld, one of the key architects of the Iraq War, and a larger-than-life character who provoked equal levels of fury and adulation from the American public. Rather than conducting a conventional interview, the director has Rumsfeld expound

Film Details

Also Known As
Unknown Known, The, Unknown Known: The Life And Times Of Donald Rumsfeld
MPAA Rating
Release Date
2013
Distribution Company
ENTERTAINMENT ONE/LES FILMS S+VILLE/RADIUS-TWC

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m

Synopsis

This documentary offers a mesmerizing portrait of Donald Rumsfeld, one of the key architects of the Iraq War, and a larger-than-life character who provoked equal levels of fury and adulation from the American public. Rather than conducting a conventional interview, the director has Rumsfeld expound on his "snowflakes," tens of thousands of memos (many never previously published) that he composed as a congressman, as an advisor to four different presidents and twice as Secretary of Defense. These memos provide a window into history-not history as it actually happened, but history as Rumsfeld wants us to see it. It is made plain that his "snowflakes"-whether intended to elucidate, rationalize, obfuscate or control history-are contradicted by the facts.

Crew

Joe Achard

Production Assistant

David Adkins

Production Assistant

Mostafa Adnan

Security

Julie Ahlberg

Producer

Zach Arnold

Associate Producer

Adam Aslan

Production Assistant

Ted Bafaloukos

Production Designer

Joseph Barillaro

Scenic Artist

Tim Barker

Production Assistant

Phil Barrie

Adr/Dialogue Editor

Steve Bartek

Music

Paul Barth

Helicopter Pilot

Joris Bartsch Buhle

Music Conductor

Richard Beausoleil

Stage Manager

Judson Bell

Special Effects Coordinator

Filmchor Berlin

Music

Irving Berlin

Song

Carlos Bermudez

Gaffer

Guillaume Bernardeau

Production Assistant

Brian Beverly

Key Grip

Malachi Bibel

Best Boy Grip

Kim Bica

Editor

Drew Bierut

Production Assistant

Steve Bores

Production Sound Mixer

Steve Bowen

Colorist

Eric Boyle

Key Grip

Paula Diaz Brarda

Painter

Josh Braun

Executive Producer

Daniel J Brisson

Carpenter

Rhea Bundrant

Art Assistant

Janice Burgess

Assistant Camera

Phil Burns

Teleprompter

Tom Canaday

Production Assistant

Sean Carroll

Digital Artist

Mark Casey

Gaffer

Ali El Chami

Production Coordinator

Ali El Chami

Producer

Robert Chappell

Cinematographer

Mike Charlton

Director Of Photography

Mike Charlton

Producer

Alan Yi-jen Chen

Animator

Danica Chipman

Art Department

Joe Christofori

Assistant Camera

Erin Clark

Cgi Artist

Tim Collins

Production Supervisor

Melissa Cooperman

Set Decorator

Robert Cuddy

Best Boy Electric

Geoff Dann

Gaffer

Mark Davis

Compositor

Scott Davis

Gaffer

Mike Decristofaro

Best Boy Electric

Lauren Dellara

Visual Effects

David Diliberto

Line Producer

Brian Do

Animator

Steven Do

Animator

Joel Dougherty

Sound

Joshua Dreyfus

Key Grip

Nancy Dubuc

Executive Producer

Jane Eisensmith

Craft Service

Danny Elfman

Music

Eric Engler

Best Boy Electric

Robert Fernandez

Producer

Julie Fischer

Researcher

Jamie K Fitzpatrick

Assistant Camera

Carol Flaisher

Production Coordinator

Bill Flanagan

Best Boy Grip

Tennessee Ernie Ford

Song Performer

Joan Ganon

Script Supervisor

G John Garrett

Production Sound Mixer

Tiffany Germann

Rotoscope Artist

Nick Giannino

Production Assistant

Amanda Branson Gill

Producer

David Godbout

Production Assistant

Chad Goyette

Assistant

Michael Guerra

Gaffer

Mauricio Gutierrez

Camera

Jennifer Sofio Hall

Visual Effects Producer

Josh Halpern

Production Assistant

Jeff Hamel

Gaffer

Adam "chip" Hamilton

Production Assistant

Amy Hanes

Coordinator

Steven Hathaway

Editor

Eugenia Magann Haynes

Art Director

Caleb Hecht

Cgi Artist

Julian P. Hobbs

Executive Producer

Christian Hollyer

Assistant Camera

Dirk Hoogstra

Executive Producer

Lori Hornung

Production Supervisor

Lori Hruska

Painter

Ali Abdul Hassan Jabbar

Photography

Jason Janego

Executive Producer

Mary Anne Janke

Assistant Camera

Hilery Johnson

Compositor

Tony Kandalaft

Animator

John Kaplan

Best Boy Grip

Melissa Karaban

Assistant

Dave Keaney

Coordinator

Joshua Kearney

Associate Producer

Cameron Keiber

On-Set Dresser

Patrick Kelly

Assistant Camera

Philharmonischer Kinderchor Dresden

Music

Jan-peter Klopfel

Music

Jon Kobs

Teleprompter

Dave Kudrowitz

Camera

Jeremy Landman

Production Designer

Zach Lanoe

Production Assistant

James Maxwell Larkin

Associate Producer

Kevin Larosa

Helicopter Pilot

Leif Larsen

Construction Coordinator

Alan Latteri

Digital Effects

Zachary Lazar

Stage Manager

Tobias Lehmann

Score Recording

Damon Lemay

Assistant Camera

Andy Lewis

Cgi Artist

Skip Lievsay

Sound

T.j. Lindgren

Music

Pat Longman

Camera Operator

Greg Maloney

Technical Coordinator

Alexandra Mann

Art Department

Marc Mann

Music

Herbert Mayer

Production Assistant

Butch Mccarthy

On-Set Dresser

Melisa Mcgregor

Music

Andy Mckenna

Visual Effects Supervisor

Clinton Mcmahon

Best Boy Grip

Steve Mcnulty

Construction Coordinator

Gabor Medveczky

On-Set Dresser

Errol Morris

Producer

Jesse Morrow

Digital Artist

Fairlie Myers

Wardrobe

Lisa Nagid

Art Department

Wisam Sami Nasik

Field Producer

Kim Nelson

Painter

Julia Nemerow

Painter

Sabbah Nory

Security

Tim Oliver

Production Assistant

Matt O¿shea

Assistant Director

Bruno Parenti

Compositor

Scott Petrino

Special Effects Assistant

Ann Petrone

Researcher

Ann Petrone

Coproducer

Dina Alexander Piscatelli

Production Supervisor

Herb Polack

Production Coordinator

David C Puopolo

Grip

Tom Quinn

Executive Producer

Lisa Remington

Production Coordinator

Yvonne Rolzhausen

Researcher

Tim Rowcroft

On-Set Dresser

Shie Rozow

Music Editor

Luay Saady

Security

Anmar Sabeeh

Security

Wesam Sami

Photography

Dennis Sands

Music Scoring Mixer

Reid Savage

Production Assistant

David Schisgall

Consultant

Morningstar Schott

Camera

Hameed Shaukat

Visual Effects Producer

Cathy Shaw

Rotoscope Artist

Robert Shaw

Rotoscope Artist

Julia Sheehan

Executive Producer

Steve Sherrick

Camera

Kirk Shintani

Cg Supervisor

Edgardo Simone

Music

Karen "skip" Skinner

Office Coordinator

Jeff Skoll

Executive Producer

David Slonaker

Music

Scott Smith

Camera Operator

Sherryn Smith

Makeup

Noah Snyder

Music Scoring Mixer

Maciek Sokalski

Compositor

Matthew Sousa

Compositor

Cassidy Spiess

Production Assistant

Karen Stark

Location Manager

Vivian Su

Cgi Artist

Alicia Suggs

Compositor

Benjamin Sutor

Camera

Charles Swazey

Art Department

Nancy Swenton

Production Coordinator

Celia Taylor

Executive Producer

Alexander Terrill

Production Assistant

Florian Tessloff

Music

Molly Thompson

Executive Producer

Travis Trudell

Electric

Jill Tufts

Camera Operator

Frantz Vidal

Cgi Artist

Angus Wall

Executive Producer

Geoffrey Wallick

Production Assistant

Jay Warren

Visual Effects Producer

Jared Washburn

Assistant Camera

Molly Wasser

Production Assistant

Alex Wayne

Production Supervisor

David Weber

Camera

Diane Weyermann

Executive Producer

Rainer Wolters

Music

Suhair Yassean

Security

Steve York

Art Department

Film Details

Also Known As
Unknown Known, The, Unknown Known: The Life And Times Of Donald Rumsfeld
MPAA Rating
Release Date
2013
Distribution Company
ENTERTAINMENT ONE/LES FILMS S+VILLE/RADIUS-TWC

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m

Articles

The Unknown Known on DVD and Blu-ray


The title of Errol Morris' The Unknown Known, a profile of the life and career of former Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, is a direct reference to Rumsfeld's most famous TV appearance. Discussing the evidence (or rather, the glaring lack of evidence) linking Iraq with weapons of mass destruction provided to terrorist groups, which was the stated reason for invading Iraq, Rumsfeld told reporters: "there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." It was a cagey piece of analysis, both a true assessment of the nature of intelligence and an obfuscation of the administration's intelligence failure, in line with another sophisticated excuse offered up to the press: "the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." A decade later, the evidence is still absent and Rumsfeld is still refusing to admit that the United States invaded Iraq without provocation or justification, merely suspicions ungrounded in any firm evidence.

It is not exactly a companion piece to The Fog of War, Morris' documentary on former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara who oversaw the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. Like that 2003 documentary, Morris engages with a former Secretary of Defense, discussing a foreign war that was launched and (mis)managed under his watch and the indefensible misconduct and scandals involving American soldiers and officer. Where is differs is the response of the subject: MacNamara, with the --- of hindsight and history and the thoughtfulness of a statesman more interested in truth than a personal agenda, admitted not just to his mistakes but to the damage the war wrought on American lives (and, of course, Vietnamese lives, though the focus is one the American legacy). A longtime politician who entered politics as a congressman elected in 1962 and served in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George W. Bush (George H. W. Bush did not trust him), Rumsfeld is a storyteller who makes his case with a gentle matter-of-factness backed by an unforced authority and genial ease, whether talking to reporters during the war or talking to camera in the interviews conducted for the film. The smile, with those half-moon eyes suggesting a grandfatherly affection backed by experience and cocksure authority, is a defining image in the film.

Errol Morris is one of the most inventive and engaging non-fiction filmmakers in the world today. He brings a strong visual presentation to pull audiences in to his films while building his case on excellent research and choice archival materials. While The Unknown Known features video clips and archival images to fill in Rumsfeld's past, however, it is his talent as an interviewer and interrogator, honed over decades of filmmaking, that gives the film its dramatic center. The film is built on hours of one-on-one interviews between filmmaker and subject, with Rumsfeld speaking directly to the camera. It's a signature of Morris' films thanks to his own invention, the Interrotron. Basically, it uses mirrors in front of the camera a way that allows interviewer and subject to engage each other directly while the subject is in looking directly into the lens. It provides an intimacy with the interview during shooting and during viewing.

Morris himself was surprised that Rumsfeld agreed to sit down for a series of interviews for this production, given his politics and his history. Watching Rumsfeld respond to Morris' questioning, you can make your own guess as to why he did. Morris is no crusading journalist hammering his subject in a debate and his approach as an interviewer is not confrontational. He engages Rumsfeld on the issues, pressing him but not challenging him. Rumsfeld responds with smiling assurance that never wavers as he repeats the same justifications and excuses he made a decade ago, despite the evidence that has come to light in the years since. And as Morris uses silence as a way to give Rumsfeld the opportunity to continue, to elaborate, to reconsider, Rumsfeld treats it as a game of chicken, simply smiling silently back at the camera until Morris continues. The kind of revelations that MacNamara offered are nowhere to be seen in Rumsfeld, whose purpose seems to be solely to explain and sustain his legacy as he sees it. It's a contest for him, a struggle over who will define his story, like a one-on-one version of the press conferences that made Rumsfeld a media star of sorts in the early 2000s.

With Rumsfeld constantly obfuscating and sidestepping issues (he calls the abuses at Abu Ghraib exaggerated and denies waterboarding was ever sanctioned), the most interesting parts of the film involve Rumsfeld reading from the hundreds of thousands of memos he wrote during his government service. He called them "snowflakes" and takes pride in them, and true to form, when confronted with a memo that contradicts his own stated position, he sets about reinterpreting it for the camera. With Morris unable to get Rumsfeld to reconsider anything in his legacy, these contradictions are the closest we have to challenging his record. You don't get the dramatic jolt or profound sense of struggle between truth and power that define previous Morris documentaries, from The Thin Blue Line (1988) to Standard Operating Procedure (2008). Rather, you get a glimpse at power protecting itself, at discredited talking points continually presented as fact, at politics as a game of shaping and controlling the message in face of any evidence to the contrary. Discussing Tariq Aziz, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld calls him "A perfectly rational individual. You wonder what goes on in a mind like that." I have that same reaction at the end of The Unknown Known. There is no doubt that Rumsfeld is both a smart, savvy political players and a polished media creature. But for all the easy-going pose of humility, he isn't the least bit humble, and he is not about to let any self-reflection complicate or contradict the legacy he has so carefully built and maintained.

On Blu-ray and DVD, with a strong picture, thanks to Morris' austere style (a single subject set against a dark background) and digital photography. The archival footage shows its age, of course, but the interview scenes and graphics are vivid and bold and look superb on the discs. Both feature commentary by filmmaker Errol Morris and a short interview with Morris discussing the genesis and the production of the documentary. Also features the 57-minute archival presentation "Third Annual Report of the Secretaries of Defense," an hour-long recording of a conference from 1989 featuring Rumsfeld, Robert McNamara and Caspar Weinberger, and the text of Morris' four-part New York Times op-ed piece "The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld."

By Sean Axmaker
The Unknown Known On Dvd And Blu-Ray

The Unknown Known on DVD and Blu-ray

The title of Errol Morris' The Unknown Known, a profile of the life and career of former Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, is a direct reference to Rumsfeld's most famous TV appearance. Discussing the evidence (or rather, the glaring lack of evidence) linking Iraq with weapons of mass destruction provided to terrorist groups, which was the stated reason for invading Iraq, Rumsfeld told reporters: "there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." It was a cagey piece of analysis, both a true assessment of the nature of intelligence and an obfuscation of the administration's intelligence failure, in line with another sophisticated excuse offered up to the press: "the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." A decade later, the evidence is still absent and Rumsfeld is still refusing to admit that the United States invaded Iraq without provocation or justification, merely suspicions ungrounded in any firm evidence. It is not exactly a companion piece to The Fog of War, Morris' documentary on former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara who oversaw the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. Like that 2003 documentary, Morris engages with a former Secretary of Defense, discussing a foreign war that was launched and (mis)managed under his watch and the indefensible misconduct and scandals involving American soldiers and officer. Where is differs is the response of the subject: MacNamara, with the --- of hindsight and history and the thoughtfulness of a statesman more interested in truth than a personal agenda, admitted not just to his mistakes but to the damage the war wrought on American lives (and, of course, Vietnamese lives, though the focus is one the American legacy). A longtime politician who entered politics as a congressman elected in 1962 and served in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George W. Bush (George H. W. Bush did not trust him), Rumsfeld is a storyteller who makes his case with a gentle matter-of-factness backed by an unforced authority and genial ease, whether talking to reporters during the war or talking to camera in the interviews conducted for the film. The smile, with those half-moon eyes suggesting a grandfatherly affection backed by experience and cocksure authority, is a defining image in the film. Errol Morris is one of the most inventive and engaging non-fiction filmmakers in the world today. He brings a strong visual presentation to pull audiences in to his films while building his case on excellent research and choice archival materials. While The Unknown Known features video clips and archival images to fill in Rumsfeld's past, however, it is his talent as an interviewer and interrogator, honed over decades of filmmaking, that gives the film its dramatic center. The film is built on hours of one-on-one interviews between filmmaker and subject, with Rumsfeld speaking directly to the camera. It's a signature of Morris' films thanks to his own invention, the Interrotron. Basically, it uses mirrors in front of the camera a way that allows interviewer and subject to engage each other directly while the subject is in looking directly into the lens. It provides an intimacy with the interview during shooting and during viewing. Morris himself was surprised that Rumsfeld agreed to sit down for a series of interviews for this production, given his politics and his history. Watching Rumsfeld respond to Morris' questioning, you can make your own guess as to why he did. Morris is no crusading journalist hammering his subject in a debate and his approach as an interviewer is not confrontational. He engages Rumsfeld on the issues, pressing him but not challenging him. Rumsfeld responds with smiling assurance that never wavers as he repeats the same justifications and excuses he made a decade ago, despite the evidence that has come to light in the years since. And as Morris uses silence as a way to give Rumsfeld the opportunity to continue, to elaborate, to reconsider, Rumsfeld treats it as a game of chicken, simply smiling silently back at the camera until Morris continues. The kind of revelations that MacNamara offered are nowhere to be seen in Rumsfeld, whose purpose seems to be solely to explain and sustain his legacy as he sees it. It's a contest for him, a struggle over who will define his story, like a one-on-one version of the press conferences that made Rumsfeld a media star of sorts in the early 2000s. With Rumsfeld constantly obfuscating and sidestepping issues (he calls the abuses at Abu Ghraib exaggerated and denies waterboarding was ever sanctioned), the most interesting parts of the film involve Rumsfeld reading from the hundreds of thousands of memos he wrote during his government service. He called them "snowflakes" and takes pride in them, and true to form, when confronted with a memo that contradicts his own stated position, he sets about reinterpreting it for the camera. With Morris unable to get Rumsfeld to reconsider anything in his legacy, these contradictions are the closest we have to challenging his record. You don't get the dramatic jolt or profound sense of struggle between truth and power that define previous Morris documentaries, from The Thin Blue Line (1988) to Standard Operating Procedure (2008). Rather, you get a glimpse at power protecting itself, at discredited talking points continually presented as fact, at politics as a game of shaping and controlling the message in face of any evidence to the contrary. Discussing Tariq Aziz, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld calls him "A perfectly rational individual. You wonder what goes on in a mind like that." I have that same reaction at the end of The Unknown Known. There is no doubt that Rumsfeld is both a smart, savvy political players and a polished media creature. But for all the easy-going pose of humility, he isn't the least bit humble, and he is not about to let any self-reflection complicate or contradict the legacy he has so carefully built and maintained. On Blu-ray and DVD, with a strong picture, thanks to Morris' austere style (a single subject set against a dark background) and digital photography. The archival footage shows its age, of course, but the interview scenes and graphics are vivid and bold and look superb on the discs. Both feature commentary by filmmaker Errol Morris and a short interview with Morris discussing the genesis and the production of the documentary. Also features the 57-minute archival presentation "Third Annual Report of the Secretaries of Defense," an hour-long recording of a conference from 1989 featuring Rumsfeld, Robert McNamara and Caspar Weinberger, and the text of Morris' four-part New York Times op-ed piece "The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld." By Sean Axmaker

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Limited Release in United States January 14, 2014

Limited Release in United States April 4, 2014

Released in United States on Video July 1, 2014

Original airing in United States July 19, 2014

Limited Release in United States January 14, 2014 (Los Angeles)

Limited Release in United States April 4, 2014 (New York)

Released in United States on Video July 1, 2014

Original airing in United States July 19, 2014 (History Channel)

Released in United States 2013 (Show)

Released in United States 2013 (Docufest)

Released in United States 2013 (Special Screenings)

Released in United States 2013

Released in United States 2014

Released in United States 2014 (Modern Masters)