‘Forgiven’ a tale without polarization
On the surface, "Forgiven" looks like it might be the stage for a political statement. The film, which is screening in the American Dramatic Competition as part of the Sundance Film Festival, is the story of a small-town district attorney and the man he sends to death row. But Paul Fitzgerald, who wrote and directed the film, gave a definitive response when asked whether the film was made with a message in mind.
"I hope not," he said. "We don’t feel we’ve made a message movie."
The film, he added, was designed so the viewer could realistically side with either of the main characters.
In the film, the D.A., Peter Miles, who is played by Fitzgerald, sets out to campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate, but as he does, he learns the death row inmate he convicted has been pardoned by the governor. When improprieties are revealed in Miles’ conduct, Ronald Bradler, the death row inmate, seeks out the prosecutor looking for answers.
"One of the trademarks about the film is that there’s a lack of prototypical protagonists and antagonists," said Fitzgerald.
While the characters oppose each other, he noted, neither is a "good guy" or a "bad guy."
"I’m not trying to get your interests on one side or another," he concluded.
Rather, he said, he tried to tell a story with the film, leaving any judgments to the viewer. In that way, the issues are explored much as they would be in real life. However, Fitzgerald noted, the film itself was inspired by a much more polarizing event.
The director said he found his inspiration for "Forgiven" in the story of of Northwestern University journalism students who found the evidence that led then-Illinois Governor George Ryan to pardon a number of death row inmates.
A graduate of the university, Fitzgerald said he followed the story through alumni journals as it developed, and eventually, decided to write a script about the subject.
He wrote the piece in 2003, shortly after Ryan pardoned the inmates, and, he said, he and his crew filmed in 2004 in 18 days on a budget of under a million dollars.
"I don’t know how you could shoot a movie in any less time," Fitzgerald said.
He also said that from the start, he planned to play the role of Miles.
"I wrote it for myself," he said, "I never really considered not playing it."
The role offered the opportunity to act in a significant part, he said, and was designed to showcase his skills, but while he came to the film first and foremost as an actor, Fitzgerald said that as he’s also excited about his writing and directing.
"They’re all kind of part and parcel of each other," he said about the three disciplines.
They’ve also helped him in other ways, aside from filmmaking. When he was asked about his time at the film festival, Fitzgerald said that while he is, of course, ecstatic to be present at the event, with all the events, press requests, parties and cast and crewmembers to take care of, the trip almost resembles a film project.
"I’m sort of likening it," he said, "to producing another small movie."
For more information about the films in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, visit http://www.sundance.org.
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