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JEWISON, NORMAN: THE HURRICANE

IN THE HEAT OF THE HURRICANE
Norman Jewison, the Canadian director of that seminal 1967 film about racism and injustice, In the Heat of the Night, was at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2000, with his new film about racism and injustice, The Hurricane. And things haven't changed that much, he tells DAVID EDWARDS.

As he walks into the room, you could be forgiven for thinking Norman Jewisonís the real hurricane. His greying beard belies his youthful intensity, and before heís even sat down and taken off his baseball cap, heís talking - rapidly and passionately.

"I was listening to a radio show in America, and this newspaper man from Newark, New Jersey, was saying ĎAwww, what are they talking about - makiní a movie like this? Everybody knows Rubin Carter killed those people.í And nobody said anything like - well, how about the United States Supreme Court!"

"People donít want to accept the truth"

"People donít want to accept the truth, you know. They get so ingrained about whatever it is. Youíve got no idea how passionate they feel about things in America. Look at South Carolina - theyíre flying the bloody [Confederate] flag from the State house and they say ĎWell, why are people upset?í"

The flame of social justice still burns strong in Jewison; but now heís putting it more into his own perspective. "Iím old, you know," he says with a little self-deprecation. "I went through a whole civil rights revolution in the Ď60s and I never thought Iíd see a black man running for President of the United States, or as Chief of the General Staff. But these things do take time."

The Hurricane tells the story of Rubin Carter, the potential world championship contender who was wrongly convicted of murder and imprisoned for 20 years. The story takes place primarily during the 1960s and 1970s. But, Jewison says, it still has relevance for todayís audience.

"I donít think a lot of young African-Americans could conceive of the type of overt racism [shown in the film] because things have changed. But when I listen to this guy on the radio, I know things havenít changed that much."

Jewison naturally worked closely with Rubin Carter when preparing to make the film. He

related an important conversation at their first meeting.

"He came up to my farm near Toronto and we talked for 4 or 5 hours. At one stage, I said to him that, you know, if Iíd spent 20 years in jail, Iíd be angry. And he said to me ĎAnger only consumes the vessel which contains ití. He has gone way beyond that."

"Heís totally charismatic"

And of the man himself, Jewison says "Heís totally charismatic. Heís become a very philosophical and very kind of Eastern person; full of mysticism and spirituality."

But his work involved many others as well. "I became so involved with Lezra; this young kid who couldnít read or write. And I said to him ĎItís like a miracle; itís like a fairytale. Why did you pick that book? There were thousands of books, why did you pick that one?í He said heíd seen a picture of a black face [on the cover] and picked it up and saw these photos of the boxing and the fight scenes, and thatís what he identified with.

"And the Canadians! I only showed the three who went down to New Jersey, but there were actually eight of them living in Toronto. They were by no means communists or anything like that - they were very entrepreneurial. I mean, we wouldnít believe it nowadays. Why? Why would you go help someone in prison in another country? I asked them that question and they said it was because of Lezra and the book - The Sixteenth Round, which Rubin wrote as a cry for help.

"he was literally like a hurricane"

"Then I started thinking, well how do we tell the story; because most people today donít even know who Rubin Carter is, they donít know anything about the real story. So I decided initially to show something about Rubin before, Ďcause he was one tough mother, you know. When he boxed he was literally like a hurricane. He came out of the corner and he was fast and he had this tremendous left hook."

For Jewison, another logical reference point was Bob Dylanís protest song The Hurricane.

"Sure, Iíd heard the song, and how Rubin was in prison Ďfor something that he never done.' But the song ends with him Ďsitting like Buddha in a 10 foot cellí. So you kind of thought, well thatís it; they railroaded him, but thatís it. But then I found this whole other story about Lezra Martin and the Canadians - and it was so rich. I was very excited."

The Hurricane uses a number of visual references to Dylanís song; but Dylan himself is not shown in an entirely positive light by the film.

"they all lost interest"

"Well, itís not just Dylan. Thereís a lot of people who moved on from Rubinís case. I mean, they had the protests and "the night of the Hurricane" in Madison Square Garden with Mohammed Ali and all these celebrities - but they all lost interest. Nothing really happened until the Canadians became involved.

"The lawyers - and they were good lawyers - got a retrial, but the witnesses lied again and they lost. But the Canadians did some amazing things. They tracked down a taxi driver who was listening in on the police radio and heard the people had been killed at the bar at, I think it was 1.38 [a.m.], while Rubin was still at the party."

The film has been criticised in some quarters as not being historically accurate; or at least of not telling the full story. Heís not particularly concerned by those charges.

"Youíve got to remember, Iíve got to entertain too! You can say this isnít in it or that isnít in it; but Iíve got to make a movie people will want to see."

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