‘A Private War’ Director Matthew Heineman on Making the Move from Documentary to Narrative

     November 14, 2018

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If you’ve seen the Best Actress episode of Collider FYC, you know that there are many excellent performances in 2018 deserving of awards season recognition, but after watching director Matthew Heineman‘s narrative feature debut, A Private War, I’m having a tough time shaking the feeling that Rosamund Pike‘s performance in this movie – and the movie overall for that matter – are being grossly undervalued.

Heineman scored an Oscar nomination himself for the documentary Cartel Land and an Emmy nomination for his follow-up film City of Ghosts, and now he makes the move to narrative filmmaking with A Private War. The movie covers the true story of Marie Colvin, an American war correspondent who worked tirelessly and fearlessly to tell the stories of those devastated by violent conflicts in Sri Lanka, Syria and more. It’s a devastating yet inspiring true story all on its own, and then Heineman and screenwriter Arash Amel turn it into an almost overwhelming feature film by incorporating both the risk Colvin takes by entering these war zones and then also the scars – physical and emotional – that those experiences leave her with. Pike’s performance here is truly not to be missed.

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Photo by Paul Conroy/Aviron Pictures

With A Private War expanding to select locations on November 16th, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with  Heineman in hopes of spreading the word about this movie. We discussed his transition from documentary to narrative storytelling, staying truthful to Colvin’s story, working with Pike, using non-actors as extras, and much more. You can catch the full conversation in the video at the top of this article and a breakdown of that interview below.

Matthew Heineman:

  • What inspired the decision to make his first narrative feature.
  • Why he chose to make a movie about this story and why it’s important to tell this particular story today.
  • How the project evolved after Heineman signed on.
  • Staying true to Marie Colvin’s experience while creating a story that suits the big screen.
  • Was Pike always the top choice to play Colvin?
  • The lengthy prep process Pike went through to play Colvin.
  • Having the real Paul Conroy on set, giving Jamie Dornan notes.
  • The choice to cast non-actors and refugees as extras.
  • The importance of telling these challenging stories and how Heineman detoxes in his free time.
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Image via Aviron Pictures

Here’s the official synopsis for A Private War:

In a world where journalism is under attack, Marie Colvin (Academy Award nominee Rosamund Pike) is one of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time. Colvin is an utterly fearless and rebellious spirit, driven to the frontlines of conflicts across the globe to give voice to the voiceless, while constantly testing the limits between bravery and bravado. After being hit by a grenade in Sri Lanka, she wears a distinctive eye patch and is still as comfortable sipping martinis with London’s elite as she is confronting dictators. Colvin sacrifices loving relationships, and over time, her personal life starts to unravel as the trauma she’s witnessed takes its toll. Yet, her mission to show the true cost of war leads her — along with renowned war photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) — to embark on the most dangerous assignment of their lives in the besieged Syrian city of Homs. Based on the extraordinary life of Marie Colvin, A PRIVATE WAR is brought to the screen by Academy Award nominee and critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman in his pulse-pounding narrative feature debut.

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