everything we know so far about Jon Stewart's new movie
Anne T Donahue
Rosewater, based on journalist Maziar Bahari’s memoir, premieres at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado this weekend
Rosewater, the much anticipated directorial debut from Jon Stewart which stars Gael García Bernal, premieres at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado this weekend before making its way to the Toronto Film Festival. Already earning praise for its captivating lead and dark, storied writing, the film is gearing up to be one of the most talked-about films of the season.
Details have trickled out – to bring you up to speed, we’ve broken down everything we know so far.
Rosewater is based on the journalist Maziar Bahari’s memoir of a different name: while covering the Iranian election protests in 2009, the Iranian-Canadian journalist was arrested by the Iranian government and taken to Evin prison. There he was held, interrogated and tortured for 118 days – 107 of which were spent in solitary confinement – and forced to make a televised confession regarding the roles of Western journalists in Iran.
Following his release, he wrote and released his memoir, Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, on which Rosewater is based.
The film was adapted, written and directed by Jon Stewart: Bahari and Stewart met after Bahari’s release, which is how The Daily Show host learned about Bahari’s memoir. After approaching screenwriters, to no avail, Stewart took the project on himself and began writing Rosewater on weekends and during dark weeks on The Daily Show.
“I don’t that Jon felt responsible for my arrest,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “But I think he felt personally invested in the story because his name came up [in] a dark interrogation room in a prison in Iran.”
The film was shot on location in Jordan: last summer, Stewart took his first hiatus from The Daily Show and set out for Amman, Jordan, where he and his crew began a five-week shoot. Made on a $5m budget, the movie took DIY to new heights when 800 extras were brought in via a social-media video campaign that involved Stewart pledging hugs for an afternoon’s work. He also kept everything local, having brought only five crew members with him.
The film will differ from the book: while Bahari’s book flips between his time in prison and the efforts of his fiancée and journalists to get him out, Rosewater stays primarily with its protagonist behind bars. As he explained to the Hollywood Reporter, Stewart told Bahari he wanted to create something that made the ordeal seem even more compelling.
“How do you create a more dramatic narrative arc?” he asked. “I’m going to make you slightly more cowardly so I can make you slightly more heroic at the end.”
The actor portraying Bahari is Mexican, not Iranian: thanks to the trailer released this week, we’ve seen that Garcia Bernal will be more than capable of portraying Bahari. That’s likely because Stewart was determined to cast an actor with the journalist’s complexities.
“I saw some great Iranian actors,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “But because I know Maziar, I felt like I was casting a person. The one thing I was really having trouble finding was someone who was able to have that distance, who, within the horror of what was happening to them, maintained a certain light.”
Bahari doesn’t care about Garcia’s ethnicity, having only told Stewart he didn’t “know if he’s handsome enough to play me”.
The Iranian actors Shohreh Aghdashloo and Golshifteh Farahani play Bahari’s mother and sister.
Iran isn’t happy: unsurprisingly, Iran is taking a stand on Rosewater, calling it “anti-Iranian” “ultra-formulaic” and “conceived by the Zionist lobby”. On the flip side, critics disagree: Variety saluted Stewart’s “confident, superbly acted debut feature [that] works as both a stirring account of human endurance and a topical reminder of the risks faced by journalists”. The director Ron Howard – who Stewart consulted during writing – has said the script is “fluid, tight and beautifully realized.”
You can catch it in Colorado and Toronto before the wide release in November: after its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival this weekend in Colorado, Rosewater will show on Monday 8 September at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. After that, it’s a bit of a wait: the film opens nationwide on 7 November.