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New Directors: Isaiah Washington's 'Blue Caprice' bore a heavy burden

March 22, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Isaiah Washington in "Blue Caprice."
Isaiah Washington in "Blue Caprice." (IFC Films )

When it comes to creating compelling drama, fact-based films often have an advantage over the invented kind.

But don't tell that to R.F.I. Porto, the writer of Washington sniper movie "Blue Caprice." The notion of adapting a real-life tale was something of a burden to the young writer--especially since much of the interior life of the man he was documenting was unknown.

"It was a horror show," Porto told audiences at the opening night of the Lincoln Center-MOMA festival New Directors/New Films in New York this week. "There was all the responsibility of the truth but all the demands of [creating] the scenes."

Directed by French-American helmer Alexandre Moors and starring Isaiah Washington, "Blue Caprice" is  based on the tense month in 2002 when a shooter who turned out to be an ex-military man named John Allen Muhammad and his unlikely 17-year-old protege Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized the Washington area by killing at least 10 people. The film is more interested in personal truths than a narrative recounting; as my colleague Mark Olsen wrote at Sundance,  "Blue Caprice transforms story into an abstracted character study...directed with the cerebral iciness of Roman Polanski."

Washington, the former "Gray's Anatomy" star, said it was a role he struggled with.

"I had so many biases about the man," he said at the premiere. "The only thing I could connect with is that I too have three children, I too am a father and I too am African American," adding: "I remember how mortified I was to find out this killer was a father and African American and former military like I was. That was the only through line I could hold on to."

Though it offers no easy answers on the question of gun control, filmmakers said they weren't afraid to engage with the subject.

“Gun issues are only the tip of the iceberg,” Moors said. “The problem of the culture of violence has deeper roots; you have to look at  the judicial system and other parts of society to understand the roots. A lack of empathy, a lack of mercy in social relationships. The gun is the end of the road.

Added Washington: “I've never seen a firearm kill anyone. There's not a gun or a weapon on the planet that has killed anyone. It's people."

After buying rights to "Blue Caprice" at this year's Sundance Film Festival, IFC Films' Sundance Selects label will likely bring out the movie in October, IFC Films chief Jonathan Sehring said at the New Directors opening. He added that it’s “not an easy” film to rush out, but he was hoping the performances would give it some award-season momentum.

It's a film he said he hopes audiences discover, much as Moors in fact did with his star. Despite Washington's fairly high profile, the director cast the part after messaging the actor via Facebook just days before they were to start shooting.

Washington almost didn't see the message, which was buried deep in his inbox "I'm glad I checked that email," the actor quipped at the screening "I think lesson is if you want an amazing actor to work on your film, find him on Facebook,” Moors volleyed back.


Sundance 2013: Icy abstraction of D.C. sniper in 'Blue Caprice'

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