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Peter Kosminsky Masterclass

Peter Kosminsky Masterclass

Friday 21st September, 2007

Crossing the Line Transcript: Peter Kosminsky Masterclass

Speakers: Peter Kosminsky & Samira Ahmed

SAMIRA AHMED:
The plan is to talk through Peter's career with some clips from films he's made over the last seventeen years and focusing particularly on the ethical issues about the drama documentary format that in many ways he's pioneered and developed so much. And there will of course be an opportunity for you all to ask questions at the end of our chat, so think of some good ones.

I have to say I was looking at your biography in preparation for this session. I'm fascinated by this combination of very hard fact and high drama from the beginning because I saw that you studied Chemistry at Oxford. But then you were doing a lot of student drama including a touring production of Twelfth Night with Hugh Grant. And I thought there was such a different career path you could have gone down.

You have also worked in Hollywood on pure drama including Wuthering Heights with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche. Which, I thought - you know you could have done as a documentary - there was a family crying out for the intervention of North Yorkshire social services. But anyway [Laughs] I had to make a joke because there's a lot of grim stuff to come.

The thing about your directing career is it's very much on hard-hitting documentaries, notably the First Tuesday series. And I want to start by looking at a war film that you made. You made two award winning films looking at real conflicts. The Falklands War, The Untold Story in 1987 and Afghantsi about Russian conscripts in the last year of the occupation of Afghanistan. Both films sort out the views of the participants to try to tell the truth about war. And in the case of Afghantsi I think it involved significant personal risk filming on location, which I know we'll talk about. And I certainly found it an especially unsettling watch from our perspective today. Here's the clip.

That was a clip from Afghantsi from 1988. What were you trying to do when you chose to take on a topic like that?

PETER KOSMINSKY:
Doesn't it seem strange to see those images from Afghanistan with the Russian army bogged down? Losing large numbers of young men, unable to figure out how to extricate themselves. Doesn't that seem strangely relevant now? Well I'm trying to think back all those years ago, I was obviously only about fifteen or sixteen at the time.

[Laughter]

Precocious child. The Russians - you could see that the Empire was collapsing and I learned from John Willis at First Tuesday that the way to tell a story was always through the experience of an ordinary person with whom one hoped our audience could in some way associate or empathise. And I knew that the Russian army was largely a conscript army and that they conscripted them at seventeen.

So I thought it might be interesting to try to see if it would be possible to interview a young seventeen-year-old soldier out there. And the tours were two years long, so they were long tours. It was pretty merciless.

Actually there was an interesting story attached to Valodya Penchuk the chap you saw being interviewed there, with whom we stayed in touch for many years after the filming incidentally. I went out there on a recce and we were closely supervised by very senior members of the Russian army, as you can imagine.

It took two years to negotiate access, and I picked out a group of five or six people that I wanted to interview when we came back. One of whom was Valodya. And he's a member of the Communist Party. He was a sort of youth leader, very responsible young man.

When I got back to do the filming, of the five we'd asked to speak to, four had strangely been re-allocated or were no longer available and we were offered four other model citizens to interview. But Valodya snuck through. And I'd chosen him because we'd had one brief conversation during the recce and he'd mentioned that his best friend had been killed and said nothing more about it.

Of course I didn't ask him about it because I wanted to ask him on camera. And we interviewed him all day on a barracks at an airfield as you can hear, in fact the same airfield where American troops are now encamped. And we had a General sitting with us just to the right of Valodya and he was the minder.

So you've got a young Sergeant with a General watching over him, you can imagine what effect that had. And half way through the day, they love to give you a nice slap-up meal so we had a lovely meal, and it was very hot and the General basically dozed off during the afternoon. And that's when we asked all the questions about his friend.

[Laughter]

You get a glimpse of it there, but later in the interview he becomes very critical of his Government and of the whole strategy of the war. The General slept through it all.

Laughter]

The only problem was keeping the sound of his snores off the soundtrack.

[Laughter]

So it's a slightly facetious answer to a serious question.

SA:
What's also interesting although we don't see it in that clip, is that it was incredibly dangerous filming, for you personally, and I just wondered how that worked and your decision to go in and how you operated?

PK:
Well it was dangerous and we did come under fire on a couple of occasions. But funnily enough the thing I remember most, and we're talking about nearly twenty years ago now so the memory fades, is we were in Moscow. Because in those days we used to do things called tours, so we would go and make three films back to back. That was challenging.

We'd been making a film about the Moscow Murder Squad and we were now due to head down to Afghanistan and we were getting very close to the point where the Russian army were all going to withdraw and Kabul was under siege in fact.

And I remember that my wife who'd been away for seven months, had just arrived in Moscow on the Trans-Siberian railway. We were reunited after a seven month absence and I was pretty pleased to see her and I turned on the radio that night and heard that an aircraft of exactly the kind we were about to fly in on had been shot down by the Mujah Hadin using Stinger missiles supplied by the Americans, landing at Kabul airport.

So I tried to phone my editor, John Willis back in London, and getting international calls out of Moscow was very difficult in those days. We're talking about when the Soviet Union was still up and running.

I finally got through to John and said yesterday's plane got shot down what do you think we should do? And bearing in mind it took me three and a half hours to get through to him, he said "Well I think you should use your own judgement." Thanks John.

[Laughter]

So my wife bid myself and my crew, because we'd made films together for many, many years so she knew them all, a rather tearful farewell on the steps of the Ukraina hotel in Moscow and we set off to face we knew not what.

And of course as you came into Kabul in those days the aircraft would sort of corkscrew in, very tight turns because the mountains around the city were held by the Mujah Hadin with their stinger missiles. And the attack helicopters of the Russian Air Force took off, I don't know if you've seen them, they look like wasps. They're very strange machines and they were firing chaff and the aircraft we were on was also firing chaff so that as you came in you started through this boom! boom! as the chaff fired off from the side of this aircraft. It was fucking terrifying actually.

[Laughter]

SA:
One other thing I wanted to ask specifically about this documentary before we move on to the drama documentary format is the ethical concerns. Because you think in documentary it's all true, you do your interviews and it's all real, but you found there were ethical dilemmas even on who you interviewed. And I was thinking of the mother of one of the conscripts.

PK:
Yes you're absolutely right. And this has been very much brought home to me recently, when one starts to hear stories of directors essentially going out and shooting things completely alone and without crews. Because we interviewed Valodya and we filmed with him for many days. He became more and more open and I think it's fair to say that when the Russian army realised we weren't out to shaft them they relaxed a bit.

So we filmed with him one evening and he revealed that he had been told that day that he was going to have to serve another six months actually beyond the point of the official withdrawal. This was going to be extremely dangerous and that he hadn't told his parents.

Anyway some little time later we got back to Russia and we tracked down his parents, they were living in the Crimea. We arranged an interview with his mother and we interviewed her and she was a wonderful woman and you see her in the film. She was very brave and very proud of her son and showed lots of photos of when he did his first parachute jumps.

And I was faced with a dilemma which is do I tell her? Because I thought by the time we'd found her he'd have told her but she hadn't, she didn't know. She kept talking about him coming home and I knew he wasn't coming home.

So I had three options really: I could not tell her, I could tell her on camera, or I could stop filming, tell her, ask her if she was prepared to continue filming, and film with her. And I chose the latter. So we completed the interview, we stopped, we told her and it was pitiful. The mask of confidence and patriotism that she had preserved throughout the interview, completely gave way. Poor woman.

I wasn't a parent at that time. Now of course I understand much more clearly what she must have felt since I have a seventeen year old. And she agreed that we should re-start and we re-started with her and it was intensely emotional and it became the end of the film.

But the point you're wanting to get at I know is that afterwards I was literally physically pinned against the wall by my sound recordist. I'd worked with him for years and he was quite a placid bloke. He said "You were completely out of order there. You should not have done that. And if you were going to do it you should have discussed it with us first."

He felt that it was completely morally wrong to have told her something, for us to have been the conduit of that information. For years I've wrestled with whether it was the right decision. Nowadays when you go out alone you don't have anybody to keep you on the straight and narrow really and to stop you falsifying, misleading. Because I always found that my own crew were the best guarantors of me not making something up.

SA:
Do you think they were right though?

PK:
No. For a long time I did think I was wrong but actually as time's passed I've tended to think that we were probably right to tell her, but to tell her off camera and to give her the chance to decide whether she wanted to talk about it or not. But he felt, I think partly because it had been such an unbelievably upsetting experience to watch her break down in that way, she was a very strong woman, he felt uncomfortable that we had done that to her and he took it out on me. And well within his rights to do so.

SA:
Okay well let's move onto the next clip. Peter made the decision to move into drama documentary and I'm going to talk about why after we see this clip. This is from Shoot to Kill in 1990. Now this seemed the perfect subject you could argue for an investigative documentary. It tackled the investigation by the Deputy Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police, John Stalker, into a series of fatal shootings in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles in the Eighties.

And the clip that we're going to show, shows Peter's dramatisation of one of the shootings and then the imagined reaction of police officers to the story when they watched the news afterwards.

I know it was a long clip but I deliberately chose that because of the end point. I think you set out originally to make a documentary of this topic. But when you see that scene, immediately that RUC officer is demonised, but that was an imagined scene wasn't is, the Nobel Prize for fiction?

PK:
Sorry I'm just recovering from seeing that for the first time for seventeen years. It looks really clunky. [Laughs] Yes we set out to make a documentary about John Stalker and his enquiry into killings in Armagh in 1982, which became known as The Shoot to Kill Affair.

The problem was there was just nothing to shoot, perhaps an unfortunate word. There was nobody available for interview. They were either dead, disappeared or not allowed to talk to us. The only thing to shoot was a few guilty buildings, there really was nothing.

So we decided, because we got a really good source of information, which is the guy John Thorburn who'd been the number two on the Stalker Enquiry and he'd never spoken to the press before. So we thought well let's turn this into a drama. Let's make it as accurate as we possibly can.

And there was a lot of testimony evidence and of course Thorburn himself had been given access to interview material, internal enquiry material that no-one else had seen. So although that scene taken out of context seems rather inflammatory, in fact it was reflecting as I remember, the fact that it was a common joke among the officers of the squad concerned, that the stories put out to the press bore no resemblance to what had actually occurred. And they were upfront in saying so in the enquiry that followed. So that was just Michael Eaton, the writer's attempt to convey that in that little bit of dialogue.

SA:
Give us a sense of how you approached a topic like this, because there's a level of research that was as meticulous if not more so, than if you were doing just a straight documentary. And that characterises the way you approach these topics doesn't it?

PK:
Well each project is different, and some of the things I've done have had a far greater degree of fiction in. I think you just have to be clear with the audience. This film Shoot to Kill was badged up as being a true story. As soon as you say that something is a true story, you really are required to use the same level of factual accuracy as you would use in a documentary.

Now in the context of some of the revelations just lately about the voracity of documentaries, that's not necessarily a particularly high hurdle. But of course as you know in drama documentary the lawyers pour over what we do extremely carefully. And in something like Shoot to Kill really I had to have a justification for every line in the script.

And the lawyers, I remember four extremely tough days with a lawyer in Holborn. And I remember he was a chain smoker, and I was stuck in that little room with him for four days. And I must have smoked the equivalent of sixty fags during the time we went through those two scripts as he went through every single line. I was there with a huge pile of research material and with the researchers, and we just went through our justification for everything.

But there are other films that I've made where we say it's based on a true story or inspired by, where there would be a much lower hurdle of evidence required. It really depends on the way that you're badging it up for the audience.

SA:
I know that one of the things you've said is that you were concerned in the past that documentaries were getting lower and lower ratings. I suppose the accusation could be made that you jumped ship to the drama-based format in order to get ratings, which relieved you of some of the responsibility of making a straight documentary.

PK:
Ooh I don't know which misconception to address first there.

[Laughter]

To start with the last and the easiest one to deal with first, it certainly didn't relieve me of those obligations for the reasons I've just outlined. In fact we can't have this conversation now in isolation from what's going on in the television world around us. I've actually been quite astonished at some of the things that I, like everybody else, am learning has been going on in so-called factual programming, which I would never have been allowed to do in drama documentary.

SA:
Such as?

PK:
Well the scripting of things that claim to be unscripted, the manipulation of events that purport to be playing out realistically and in real time. The creation of false crescendos, false climaxes and confrontations, the stuff of drama actually, being artificially injected into documentary. All getting away with it because it's known as factual entertainment, and it doesn't seem to come under the same level of scrutiny as we do, rightly I would say, when we make drama documentary.

So no, shifting to drama doesn't or didn't relieve me of the obligation of being accurate. If you make a statement that a film is a true story you have exactly the same hurdle to overcome. And the lawyers will be just as tough with me as they were with me when I made straight docs for ten years previous to Shoot to Kill.

Did I shift over to get ratings? Well I think probably yes in a way. It's interesting that you show Afghantsi, which is one of the documentaries of which I guess I'm quietly most proud. I remember vividly that that documentary, which almost cost me my life, got one point two million viewers. And that was one point two million viewers at a time when they really had large audiences. I mean I was heart broken.

I was proud of that film and I didn't make it, and we didn't go through what we went through, and the interviewees didn't take the risks that they took by going on camera, just so that one point two million people could watch it. And it did really start me thinking about whether I was in the right business, whether this was the medium to get really serious subjects across.

That was one of the last ones that I made, and when I came to The Stalker Affair which I thought had really serious political implications in terms of whether we were heading down the road to a police state, whether it was legitimate to just go in and shoot people that you suspected might be terrorists.

Bear in mind that those arms were not discovered on most of the people that were shot and killed in Armagh in '82 in those incidents. I thought, well maybe if we made it as drama, we would reach a larger audience and of course Shoot to Kill was seen by nine million people. Which in those days was a good audience and today would be an extraordinary audience for a serious subject.

We had a far larger budget, we had four hours of airtime, so instead of doing it in the ghetto hours for no money at all and watched by a tiny audience, we did essentially the same journalistic material across four hours of prime time, and got an extremely respectable audience.

So I think that was probably the beginning of a process for me of realising that unless I just wanted to make films for a few mates, if I really was serious about trying to talk to a large audience with some of these difficult subjects, I had to talk to them in a language they understood and were prepared to accommodate.

SA:
This is a very good point then to go onto our next clip, because you talked about wanting to tackle serious topics and not getting audiences. You made No Child of Mine for Meridian TV I think in 1997, and like many of your other films it won many international awards.

And it was said to be the true story of a young child who is sexually abused by both her parents. She was raped by her stepfather and made to work as a prostitute by her father. Quite a harrowing watch, but it's a drama format based on a factual story. This clip that we show is from quite early on in the film, and it shows the girl with her mother and stepfather involving her in their adult games.

SA:
I watched that just a few days ago and I found it incredibly harrowing but significantly there's nothing explicit at all in it actually, other than the language. As you see in that clip, it's all in her face. Now that was an ITV drama that went out on the topic of child abuse, I'm just amazed in a way that you got it commissioned and how did it come about? How did you come to make it?

PK:
It was difficult. I'm just trying to remember back to how it absolutely started. I'd been talking to the Children's Society, and they described to me something that I'd never heard of which was a concept called conveyor belt abuse. Which was where a child was abused in some way it the family environment, the family broke up and the child was taken into care. Then was abused in care because they were reckoned to already have been groomed and therefore would be easier to use in that way and ended up as a child prostitute on the streets.

This was apparently a phenomenon that they were becoming increasingly familiar with. And this was long before Panorama exposed the care homes where known paedophiles were discovered to be working. So it was pretty extraordinary, but I was hearing this from a number of the children's organisations so we decided to try and find a particular case and dramatise it.

And in fact we found three cases and Guy Hibbert the person who wrote the drama read the three cases studies and he chose that we should tell the story of Kerry. Although that obviously wasn't her real name, we called her Kerry in the drama.

Now because it was a true story and her life was still very complicated, although she was in fact grown-up, she was at University by the time we told the story, we changed a number of details. Not of what happened to her, but for example the city where it happened, the accent used by her parents, just trivial things that might throw her real family off the scent so that it wouldn't be obvious that it was her.

I'd got to the point of a script when Yorkshire Television, the company I was working for had a kind of internal putsch and there was a change of management. Somebody new arrived and the day he arrived he fired me.

I'd been there for ten years at this point, and I can say who it was, it was Bruce Gyngell, because he's no longer with us sadly. He said, I'll never forget it, "we don't want this kind of shit here." So I was told to clear my desk and leave. Obviously this placed me in a difficult position, but also quite a strong one. Because I said to him "Well if you don't want it, can I have it?" and he said "yes absolutely, take it, we don't want it."

So it was already commissioned so I took it, I made one phone call to Meridian who were very keen to have something that had already been commissioned by the Network Centre, it became their first Network drama, the company MAI which owned Meridian, it's a bit complicated. And I made it for them as a freelance, as an independent.

It was without question the most difficult thing I've ever had to do. Brooke Kinsella who played Kerry was twelve years old when she took that part and I had to work out very, very carefully how to make sure she was going to be okay through the process. We auditioned her seven times.

I don't want to go through all the details because we probably don't have time, but I can promise you that her welfare, and I can answer questions on any of the detail of what we did, but essentially we were obviously very careful of her well-being. And her mother was on set throughout the entire shooting process with her.

But what I wasn't really quite prepared for was the way in which certain newspapers set out to expose the identity of the girl whose story we had told. As you'll know Samira, you can't identify a rape victim in this country, it's against the law. And the girl on whom Kerry was based was a rape victim and so they had absolutely no business trying to do this, but they did identify, let me just say since I think there are members of the press here, somebody that they thought possibly was Kerry. And we had to go to ridiculous lengths to try to protect her. But I'm very proud of the film now, although honestly now that I'm a parent, I don't know that I would make it again.

SA:
I just wondered, all that you've said about how you were careful with this young actress, there's still this ethical line isn't there that you have to cross if you're going to make her act out some of those scenes? Even if they're not explicitly acted out. She knew what the scenes were about, and there are rape scenes.

PK:
Absolutely, although often her part was shot separately from their part and if you watch the way it's shot with that in mind, you can see that we constructed these things in the cutting room. But no I wasn't prepared to do it without the young girl being aware of what it was about.

Now Brooke was the eldest of four children, she was very grown up and she's still in the business, she's been in EastEnders and is a successful actress. But her next door neighbour and best friend at school had been sexually abused as I discovered during the audition process, and therefore she had very unfortunately come face to face with this issue in her own life prior to working on the film.

I didn't want to go into in too much detail but one of the things that we did was initial auditions were on completely innocuous material, other scripts that casting directors provided. We did two auditions like that just to focus on the kids that could actually act, at that point we gave the script to the parents and we said "If you're not happy for your child to perform in this material, stop now."

At least fifty percent of them did. We then asked the parents to talk the scripts through, not with us present, with their daughters. And I only wanted those who were comfortable with the way their children had responded, that they hadn't been too distressed by the concept. So there was a kind of stage-by-stage process, which we went through to ensure, or to try to ensure, there was no damage done.

SA:
There's just one more question I wanted to ask that's specifically about this before we move on. And it's what your target was? Because it tells her story, there was helpline information given at the end if you'd been a victim of abuse to call, but I was struck by the lack of exploration of the motivation of the abusers. There was a lot about how social services failed her and in one case a carer actually rapes her.

I just wondered if that was the documentary maker in you thinking who's the target here? And it was about the failure of social services rather than what maybe a drama director would have focused on which is who were her parents and why did they do it?

PK:
Well, I played to my sources. We had her social services file, which was a massive file, and we had help from those social services who'd worked with her and of course from herself. I couldn't contact the parents because she didn't want them to know anything about the process. So the dramatisation was always going to be fairly minimal on their side of it. Added to which, you're correct of course, I was interested and concerned about how the people who essentially had a duty of care to her, appear to have failed her so completely.

So my focus was on essentially the vetting of care workers and also she eventually ends up in a safe house in Bournemouth, the real one isn't in Bournemouth. And there are only I think two or three of those in the country that are really there to work with kids who are prostituting themselves on the streets and try to help them come back from that.

And part of the point of the film was to campaign for more such facilities and the captioning at the end draws attention to that, so I wasn't particularly interested and there have been many films subsequently on the subject, in the motivation of the abusers. I was interested in the fate of the abused really.

SA:
Excellent. The next clip we're going to look at is from Warriors which you made two years after No Child of Mine, in 1999. A very ambitious and again multi award-winning drama. This looked at the traumatic experiences of British soldiers in Croatia during the Yugoslav Civil War who were forbidden by their UN mandate from intervening. It had an all-star cast and I think was your first collaboration with Leigh Jackson, your writer?

PK:
That's correct yes.

SA:
The clip that we're going to show shows British forces trying to negotiate the hand over of Muslim bodies from the Croats. The Croats have just told them there is one person still alive in the truck, but a British soldier has to go and get him out.

I feel like saying there's a scene a little further on when all the soldiers go back and there's an investigation into the incident where it's revealed that the soldier is reprimanded for having used his morphine on that man to relieve his pain. I think you've said that you were unhappy that the reporting of the war in former Yugoslavia wasn't effective enough. Is that what made you choose to make a drama documentary? That you felt unsatisfied by the reporting there was?

PK:
Did I say that?

SA:
Yes.

[Laughter]

PK:
Oh sorry.

SA:
You said it wasn't properly reported.

PK:
I can't imagine why I would have said that. No I think drama made five years after the event as this was can bring something that augments the day-to-day coverage. I wouldn't in any way criticize the news coverage, I don't know why I would have said that. Those incredibly brave people who...

SA:
Well I wonder if you meant the fact that this obviously focuses on the psychological impact of the soldiers and maybe that's what was missing? That nobody was looking at what happened to these men, what they'd seen and how badly they were treated when they came home.

PK:
I just read a little piece in a paper, and bear in mind Warriors took seven years to get to the screen, and the Cheshire regiment came back from Vitez in Central Bosnia, I think they came back in '93. There was a little piece somewhere about how some of them were receiving counselling and that they'd felt their hands were tied in some way. And that's really where Warriors came from.

It took us a while to persuade the army to help us but we started to interview people that had been out there. In the end I think we interviewed over a hundred of the former combatants, all British. And the story that started to emerge really was a story that I had not heard before, which seemed to me to be incredibly relevant to the role of peace keeping, which has got such a dirty word since Iraq.

Essentially these were people who were trained to kill, but were really quietly incredibly proud to be out there trying to keep the peace, they loved the idea that they were using their strength of might not to destroy but in some way to build. And of course modern peacekeeping was in its infancy at that point, and the mandate was a pretty unsophisticated one, and they weren't allowed to intervene really unless their own lives were directly threatened. And the result of this was they were forced to stand and watch while heavily armed neighbour butchered unarmed neighbour right in front of them.

And for people trained for action, who had thought they were going out to do some good, it tore them to shreds. To have to stand and watch what they thought was a terrible injustice taking place. And in my experience of soldiers and I've made quite a few films about soldiers over the years, they do have a very highly developed sense of right and wrong, funnily enough. And injustice really gets to them.

A number of them ended up suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a number of them ended up homeless on the streets actually, unable to come to terms with civilian life. So I wanted to make a film based on these testimonies that we'd recorded, about what it's like to be stuck in the middle of someone else's war. And in Leigh Jackson's incredibly capable hands, Warriors was what resulted.

SA:
So was that based on piecing together to some extent real incidents, soldiers real accounts and then fictionalising them?

PK:
Yes the claim we made for Warriors was that every event you see in the Peacekeeping arena is true, and that incident that you show there and the very dramatic event that follows it.

SA:
Yes the showdown with the Croat commander.

PK:
Where the soldier Private James played by Matthew Macfadyen tries to provoke the Croat commander so he can, within the terms of his mandate, fight him. I had the direct testimony from the soldier involved and one of his mates corroborated it and it was an incredibly dramatic testimony. But my instincts were the same as they've always been, journalistic. I was hearing a story that I had not heard told about a subject with which we all thought we were fairly familiar.

SA:
How did the making of that compare with say something like Afghantsi or The Falklands War, the Untold Story? Because they both looked at war, one was a documentary, one was a drama documentary, or a drama I suppose pure in this case.

PK:
Well you cannot compare the process. You can compare the initiating idea but if you're making Afghantsi you simply stand off and record what's happening and occasionally ask a question. If you're making Warriors, everything has to be manufactured. If you look at my script for Warriors, every single camera move is worked out, plotted out on a diagram. You spend weeks and weeks and literally millions of pounds trying to approach the casual sense of reality that you get effortlessly. Don't take that the wrong way documentary makers, I mean effortlessly in the sense of just pointing a camera at it in real life, not effortlessly in terms of making the film I know that. I mean it's artifice writ large in the sense of trying to manufacture something that feels edgy and documentary style and real.

SA:
I was particularly struck in the scene that we showed when Matthew Macfadyen gets on that truck and you see the blood before, that you convey extreme violence and also the sexual abuse in the previous film, somehow without ever showing it, and it's all the more powerful for it. Is that a deliberate decision that you've made?

PK:
Well sometimes you happen upon these things. I remember there is a scene in Warriors when Ioan Gruffudd and Damian Lewis are going into a sort of underground bunker where families are sheltering and at one point two little girls waved at the camera and I completely lost it. I shouted at the Czech 1st AD "Make sure these extras understand they mustn't look at the camera under any circumstances."

Of course when I got it into the cutting room it was incredibly powerful and I ended up using it twice in the film. So you get it wrong as often as you get it right. But in this particular case I have to say that it was my idea at the time. I just felt that there was nothing we could do as a point of view shot that would be as grisly as it would in the imagination. A truck full of decaying, literally dripping corpses. So I did it with sound and I trusted Matthew as an actor to convey it, and of course it makes the moment when the guy rears up out of that unseen bed of sort of fermenting flesh into view all the more powerful because you haven't seen it.

SA:
The one other issue which is very striking is it took you seven years to make this. How much co-operation did you have from the MOD or anyone in officialdom?

PK:
It's a good lesson in tenacity. When I first approached the MOD the UNPROFOR Mandate under which Cheshires were operating were still in force and they were not in the slightest bit interested in me making this film or anything like it. And of course I didn't necessarily need their help to find the interviewees for background research, but I certainly needed their help with Warriors. Because those armoured vehicles, no-one else has them. I think the Saudi's have a few but at that point the only real people who have them were British Army. So you couldn't make the film without that hardware unfortunately.

Then the Dayton Agreement came along and the UNPROFOR Mandate was replaced by the IFOR Mandate, which was a much more aggressive interventionist mandate. And suddenly the MOD were more prepared to entertain debate about the shortcomings of the previous mandate. So it was really a question of babysitting the idea until things had moved on sufficiently to the point where they were prepared to agree to let us make the film. But there were still many, many years and many problems that lay ahead at that point.

SA:
Well let's move on to our last clip because this is something that will enable us to talk a bit more about your relationship with officialdom when you're trying to research a factual work. Our last clip is from The Government Inspector, made in 2005 for Channel 4. You wrote as well as directed this and we'll talk about that process as well later.

It mixes news footage and drama to tell the story of the weapons inspector David Kelly who committed suicide after being outed as the source of a leaked journalist over controversial intelligence dossiers that the Labour Government used justify the invasion of Iraq. This clip imagines Alastair Campbell and his spin doctors at work.

[Laughter]

I think there's more comedy in you to do. Now I chose that clip for a couple of reasons. One is not just to give a plug for Channel 4 News but I remember that day because our correspondent who you saw there reporting that it was ripped off from a PhD thesis, he found out because the guy who marked the thesis emailed him and said "I marked this thesis, here it is."

PK:
I didn't know that.

SA:
So there you go. But the key thing watching that for me, which I felt uncomfortable about, was you have to imagine the process whereby it got written. And that's the whole dilemma with especially taking on very recent events - that you were accused of making a great, entertaining film, but one that was your idea of what happened. And people disagree that that was true.

PK:
Okay, where do I start? First of all, the claim. The claim that it was based on a true story, big letters right at the beginning. You know we have to be allowed to make different kinds of programmes, as long as we're honest about the nature of them. David Kelly was an extremely secretive man. Neither his close working circle nor his family knew exactly what he was up to all the time.

So it was never going to be possible to try to cover the last few months of his life with absolute certainty. So I researched it as thoroughly as I have ever researched anything, but we made that claim of it being based on a true story because there were always going to be one or two elements that we were going to have to fictionalise. Now the moment you do that of course, you're in danger. Let's talk about that sequence. The huge advantage that we had in making The Government Inspector was the Hutton Inquiry.

SA:
Which you sat through.

PK:
Every single day I, or one of my team, attended. I personally read every one of the ten thousand pages of evidence that was posted on their website and it really was with the possible exception of the Kennedy Inquiry earlier into Bristol heart babies, the first genuinely cyber inquiry. In which you could sit at home and you could read transcripts of what everyone said on the stand, and you could look at all the submitted documents. We also did our own interviews and it just so happened that, and I've go to be quite careful what I say here, somebody who knew the bloke who we show drawing up the dossier, talked to us. I really can't say more about who they were than that.

SA:
You had a source.

PK:
I had a source beyond the Hutton Enquiry for what Campbell had said, and how the guy essentially carried the can internally. You understand I have to be careful what I say here, but the only other person apart from me and my team who sees those sources is the barrister that legals our films. And I can promise you he ain't no pushover and anyone who's ever worked with the lawyers who legal films know what I'm saying is true.

That sequence would not have been allowed to be included under the guise based on a true story or not if I hadn't been able to substantiate it to his satisfaction. Because we're using the real names of people here. There's such a thing as fairness, there's such a thing as defamation as you of course know. So yes it makes an entertaining scene and I dramatised it, but at its base are a series of well-substantiated facts, as you would expect given that the show was cleared to air.

SA:
But there is a specific question of the proximity of your dramatisation to real events that in some ways they were still being worked out.

PK:
I think that's a very interesting point. And I feel quite torn in the case of The Government Inspector. When we made Warriors about five years had elapsed and it was really possible to reflect with some sense of, well you just had a different view five years after the event. I can't do that any more because there's so much more of this kind of stuff on television now, factually based drama, that if I sat around waiting for the perspective of five years, someone else would have done it.

So I have to get in there pretty fast to do the kind of film I've been doing for twenty years. The other thing, which is why even so it would have been quite a difficult decision in this case, is I felt there was a terrible injustice going on and I had every programme maker's desire to be in as part of the controversy, to be part of the debate. Not just to stand back and reflect on it in five years time.

SA:
But that was the criticism wasn't it? That many people felt it was a very legitimately sympathetic portrait of David Kelly, and certainly gave me a sense of insight into him that I never got as a journalist covering the story, but that it was your truth, and that people would watch it and think all of this is exactly what happened. Even with your disclaimer, that's not how an audience takes it and that's the danger of drama documentaries.

PK:
You see I take issue with that last sentence because having made documentaries for ten years I know that they are not in any way objective. Every time you carry out an interview, every time you write commentary into the interview, every time you juxtapose one bit of sync with another, every time you use slightly emotive music, you are making subjective judgements and it really is ridiculous if you stop to think about it for a minute to suggest that documentaries are in some way by definition objective and dramas are in some way by definition subjective.

What the audience relies on in both cases is the integrity of the programme maker, and we both have the same objective in making a programme which by definition is going to be simplifying, is going to concertina events into a particular time slot, and that is does this mislead the audience? Now in the end you can legislate, you can set down guidelines, the BBC can draw up guidelines until it's blue in the face, but you cannot prevent a dishonest programme maker from making a dishonest programme if they're really determined to do it. And everybody who's in this audience who's ever made a programme knows that to be true.

So in the end, the audience is in the hands of, relies upon the integrity of, the programme maker. I did not set out to mislead, I have no interest in misleading, what's the point? I can't deny that my sympathies were largely with the broadcasters in this situation but when we found out that Andrew Gilligan had falsified his notes, which was a completely new discovery as a result of really quite intensive forensic examination.

SA:
You defended that, though I know he disagrees strongly.

PK:
Although it went against my natural feeling that the broadcasters had been appallingly put-upon by the government, I had to include it because it was a vital piece of information and to exclude it having discovered it, would have been misleading. So the whole BBC case was based upon, in my humble opinion, somewhat tainted evidence, because it appeared for whatever reason that Andrew Gilligan had altered his notes five weeks after he interviewed David Kelly.

I included it because it was absolutely relevant and to exclude it would have been misleading. In the end all the audience can do is trust the programme maker. The form is not inherently subjective, just as the form of documentary is not inherently objective.

SA:
But you have a dilemma now because this government really didn't want to cooperate with you and other projects that you've done. The Project which was about the rise of New Labour, I mean Alastair Campbell sent out a communiqué didn't he saying "do not speak to Peter Kosminsky."

PK:
Well Lance Price did who was his deputy, but yes.

[Laughter]

That's an interesting laugh, I wonder what that meant.

SA:
Does that make your job more difficult though as someone who makes political films?

PK:
Yes of course, because they drive you into the arms of the disaffected. If none of the insider people will talk to you, particularly when you're making a two-part drama about the beginnings of New Labour, and the way the Millbank machine operated, what can you do except speak to the people who are browned off with New Labour? Who were inside the system and were fired of let go or frustrated in some way.

So you do your best as a journalist, we ended up talking to a lot of MP's who are a bit more independent and with whom Alastair Campbell's writ doesn't entirely run or in those days didn't completely run. So we got the loyalist view by talking to them. But you have to force your way through this news blackout to ensure that the piece you produce is balanced and as accurate as you can make it. Sometimes despite the best efforts of the sources to prevent you telling a fair and balanced tale.

SA:
Okay well just before we open it up to questions, I wanted to ask briefly about your next project and what comes next, which is Britz for Channel Four. Perhaps you could just tell us what you feel you can tell us about it, your ambition in taking it on?

PK:
Well Britz is two two-hour films for Channel 4 timed for the twenty fifth anniversary of the channel. It's really about being a second generation Muslim in Britain today. I'm not supposed to say too much about it but...

SA:
Can you say that they're dramas?

PK:
They're fictional dramas, they're not documentaries in any sense, although they were very heavily researched. I'm a second-generation immigrant myself though not a Muslim, obviously. And I feel two very strong competing pressures within me. One to integrate, to sort of out-British the Brits, and the other to up-turn the apple cart, to be faithful to my ethnic origins.

And I thought it would be interesting to look at the two sides of the coin for a second generation Muslim, in the context of Britain's foreign policy and recent changes in Habeas Corpus type legislation, which we know a lot of second generation British Muslims feel very strongly about, and tell the story of a brother and sister with these two very different reactions to Britishness. The brother wanting fiercely to be British, and ending up in this case, being recruited by MI5 effectively to spy on his own community. And the sister, a political radical, far less enamoured of Britain and the British way of life, driven towards radicalism by the effect of some of the recent anti-terrorist legislation on her friends and close circle.

SA:
I'm interested that you decided not to make a drama documentary of say, the 7/7 attacks, because I know the BBC was planning one. And there's such a strong narrative there, did you deliberately choose to avoid anything factual based?

PK:
Yes because I was more interested in what it feels like emotionally to be second generation when you feel, as some British Muslims do, that your adopted country, the country where you were born, is waging a war against your co-religionists all over the world. What must that feel like, the conflict of loyalties? I was less interested in how the Beeston bombers manufactured their explosives than I was about what it must feel like to be torn in that way.

SA:
Well let's open it up to questions. Just before we start, if you stick your hand up and if I point to you, wait until the microphone gets to you just so that we can hear you clearly. We'll start with this gentleman here.

M1:
Peter, Nora Ephron the Hollywood filmmaker who of course started at The Washington Post, has said that she always gives the advice to young people who want to go into movie making, that they should go and get a life and go into journalism first. She also says to jaded and indeed seasoned journalists, that if they're losing their fire they should go into screenwriting.

Now I suspect given your own personal journey that you would echo that sentiment, even despite the extra competition for commissions it might create if more journalists followed your path. But I wonder if you reflect upon it, whether there are also drawbacks as well as benefits from a journalistic background when you make this move into drama?

PK:
That's a really good question. You see I'm probably not in the best position to answer that question, critics looking at my work would probably be better placed to. My motive in doing what I do is always journalistic or political. There's always something troubling me that I want to get at. Even if it, as in what we've just been discussing right at the end here, is to do with people's psyche and their intimate feelings about nationality.

There's always a political point. And I've said it before and this is one quote I'm not going to deny, that I do see my job as being there to make some mischief. I don't think there's enough mischief in British television at the moment. So I don't feel as if my driving force has really changed from when I was making docs for Yorkshire Television all those years ago, and now I'm really still trying to interrogate the same kinds of areas but just using different tools.

So in that narrow sense it isn't a disadvantage because it's a conscious decision whether somebody would look at the clunky old dramas I produce and say "well if this guy had gone to film school he'd probably be a better drama director." It's kind of for other people to judge really.

SA:
Gentleman over there.

M2:
You talked about the ethical dilemmas you faced making Afghantsi. You said the General dozed off and you got the great response from your interviewee. Did you keep track of whether he then subsequently got into trouble when the Soviet Embassy saw the film that went out, or what happened next? Because that troubled me a little bit.

PK:
Yes it was actually more complicated than that because we made the film in collaboration with a Russian news agency called Novosti which was just getting going as a free-speaking organisation at the time of perestroika, which is what was happening at the time of making this film. So their journalists really helped us put Afghantsi together, it was very much a team effort. And the quid pro quo was that I had to go and screen it at the Ministry of Defence in Moscow, so I travelled to Moscow with the film in my rucksack and we showed it in the screening room in the Ministry of Defence in Moscow.

That was a pretty scary experience. They were furious. Joking apart, they were absolutely livid. They really didn't have any idea what kind of film we were making and it is a profoundly anti-war film. And of course we'd done quite a bit of filming back in the Soviet Union of which they knew virtually nothing.

So we had to extract guarantees from them and that's why it was one of the toughest two days of my working life, that the people interviewed would suffer any recriminations. And that's why I said during our session earlier, that I kept in touch with Penchuk for many years, because we and the Novosti journalists who were there on hand, were concerned that he shouldn't suffer.

But actually he didn't do anything wrong. He was being interviewed, the minder was there and he just spoke honestly. He doesn't really criticise the regime, the criticism is by implication. He simply talks about how upset he was that his friend died in such a horrible way, and how sad he was that mothers had to get their sons returned to them in zinc coffins, which was a phrase he memorably used.

The person who did get in trouble was the serving General who we interviewed and he had the last word in the film. He chose to come in and be interviewed in full uniform with all his medals and he said "In years to come this will be perceived as having been a terrible mistake."

And I was very worried about him and they wouldn't listen to me at all and I realised that we were being used, I only realised this subsequently. That Novosti and some of these other guys we were interviewing, had their own agenda, which was at that moment in the developing history of the Soviet Union, to make certain statements. And that we were actually the vehicle to allow them to do so, and they knew exactly what they were doing.

And in a sense you just sort of stood back and let them get on with it because, it's hard to imagine now but it was such a unique insight in those days. And he did, he was drummed out of the army, but he knew what he was doing.

M2:
Just one other question is how can we get hold of some of the films that we've seen clips of today?

PK:
Well that's the first time a clip from Shoot to Kill has been shown anywhere to my knowledge since 1990 when it was transmitted. It fell foul of a legal action brought by John Hermon the then Chief Constable of the RUC, and has sat gathering dust on a shelf ever since. This is why I was quite surprised because I've never seen it since transmission. So you won't get hold of that.

SA:
Come and see it at mine, I've got it on VHS. All of you.

[Laughter]

PK:
Talk to Elizabeth Wood who organised this event. She must have got hold of them somehow. They are obviously available if you're prepared to be argumentative enough.

SA:
Gentleman at the front, then there's a gentleman at the very back there.

M3:
Hi. With pure documentaries being increasingly popular with theatrical releases in cinemas and stuff like that, would you consider going back to a pure documentary form? And would you think of making a sequel for instance in Afghanistan?

PK:
The funny thing about these sessions is when you talk and answer questions, it's as if you're following some grand design. The truth is it doesn't work quite like that and I like making drama, I really enjoy it. I enjoy the relationship with the actors, I enjoy having the slightly more complex train set to play with. So yes of course what's the best technique to use to tell a story is a factor, but just on a personal level I really like making drama. So probably no I'm going to stick. I've probably only got a limited number of films left in me, because I'm very old.

[Laughter]

So I think I will stick at the drama as long as they let me keep on spending vast amounts of money to do so.

SA:
Question at the very back there. It's our last one.

M4:
Thank you. How much of the writing of the structure, characterisation and dialogue would you think that you ultimately take part in? I mean there must be a wrestle between you and your writers when there are co-writers involved?

PK:
Yes I neatly got rid of the writer recently and do it myself. Well it varies from project to project. On Warriors for example, I wrote a storyline based on the research and gave that to Leigh Jackson and he used that as the basis of the two films. On other occasions it's more informal, you have a conversation about the film as you've imagined it and the writer may say "well what about this as an alternative?" and you think "wow that's much more interesting, let's do that." It just varies from case to case.

I suppose it also depends on the point at which the writer becomes involved. Take Leigh Jackson again, sadly no longer with us, but he came in quite late in the process on Warriors and the BBC were very keen that we should collaborate again, so when talked about doing The Project, he was there from inception. So clearly he was much more involved in the evolution of the story, I mean pivotally involved. Most of the main story decisions were his, because he was there from the start. If a writer joins later, some of those decisions will inevitably have already been made.

SA:
Thank you very much. Sorry we do have to end it there. But I'd like to thank all of you for coming, and most of all to thank you Peter Kosminsky for a really fascinating insight into your work. Thank you very much.

PK:
Thank you.

[Applause]

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