(DENNIS B MALLARI)
He has often made headlines as the most eligible bachelor in Hollywood, but actor George Clooney’s celebrity power goes far beyond his marital status.
The star, in Dubai yesterday for the fourth Dubai International Film Festival, has been using his famous name to achieve his personal agenda – be it creating awareness of the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, speaking out against the war in Iraq, or even promoting small-budget films that are close to his heart.
His latest film, Michael Clayton, is one such story, which Clooney believes just had to be told. “It is a commentary against malpractice, and is based on an actual court case from the 1980s in the United States,” he says.
“A car manufacturing company had built defective vehicles and this was recognised in an interoffice memo that was later leaked. It was stated that recalling those cars would cost the company millions, but it would be cheaper to absorb the 200 deaths that would occur if the cars remained on the roads.”
Talking about the film being chosen as the opening gala screening for DIFF, the actor defended the choice, saying a film festival is not solely a platform for depicting movies that cross cultural divides.
“A festival should allow the opportunity to showcase all sorts of cinema, and Michael Clayton is a grown-up film that every filmmaker can appreciate and learn from.”
This is Clooney’s second visit to Dubai, after shooting for Syriana here in 2005 and he says one of the primary reasons is fulfilling a promise of coming back to the city.
“Syriana was such a bold subject and it took guts for the UAE Government to allow us to shoot such a film here,” he says. “And the film did ask a lot of tough questions.”
And while several scenes were censored when the movie finally released here, Clooney says every country has its own censorship laws and they should be respected.
“Back home, I constantly battle with the censor board about depicting smoking scenes in my movies, and in the UAE there are some issues that are culturally sensitive.
“The first step was to allow us to film here. And who knows, maybe 10 years from now censorship will not even exist here,” he says.
An activist and a staunch supporter of human rights, Clooney admits that a cultural divide exists in the treatment of Arab Americans in the US.
“The US has had a history of panicking in crisis situations. We rounded up Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and we did the same with Arab Americans after 9/11.
“The problem is that many people in my country aren’t educated in the basics, such as the difference between Shias and Sunnis. But things are finally looking up now,” he says.
While the actor sidestepped commenting on the rights of unskilled employees in the UAE, he did confess to being a supporter of the ongoing Writers’ Association Guild strike in the US. “I am a union man and I firmly side with the writers and their claims.
“There comes a point where we need to draw a line that shows that writers can participate in the profit that is being generated from new streaming media, like the internet.
“But the problem is, earlier we used to deal with independent studios but today we deal with multinationals like GE and Time Warner,” says Clooney.
Never one to shy away from a cause he strongly believes in, the actor also does not mince words in opposing the war in Iraq.
“When I spoke against the war before the invasion, people in the US called me a traitor. Today, 75 per cent of the country’s population is against the war. While I can’t label Bush [US President George W] as a terrorist, as a country we are good fixers and we are righting many of the wrongs we have committed – like forgetting about the Geneva Convention for one,” he says.
Clooney’s current cause is raising awareness about the genocide in Darfur.
He says as a celebrity, he has the privilege of cameras following him wherever he goes, and so he decided to take those cameras with him to Africa and highlight the situation and the atrocities being committed there.
“There are now 15 countries in Africa that are in trouble, but Darfur especially was getting no attention,” he says.
“Over there the situation isn’t just about human rights, but about life and death. I am not a policymaker, and there are brighter minds out there to shine the light, but the plight of the Middle East and even human rights issues in general are situations that I can lend my voice and celebrity power to.”
So does that mean political ambitions are on the cards?
“I have done way too many bad films that can be used against me in a political campaign,” comes the laughing response. “But I do come from a political background, as my mom was a mayor and my dad ran for Congress. Unfortunately, when you run for office, you have to make a lot of compromises and I can’t do that or walk around with a chain around my neck.” But politics does inform Clooney’s work. The actor, who has also branched out as a movie producer and director, talks about his film Good Night, and Good Luck as his best work yet. The film won him an Oscar nomination in 2005 and deals with the threat of Communism in 1950s America.
“My film tackles the issue of McCarthyism in the US, which I believe was a repeat of the Salem witch hunt of the 1800s,” he explains. “At the time people lost their jobs and their livelihood because of this brand of politics. And whoever spoke out against it was branded a traitor.
“I made this film because the right questions weren’t being asked. And someone had to get the ball rolling and reveal the truth.”
The actor, whose career has spanned more than two decades, admits that many people question some of his dubious choices in films.
“But, when I look back on my career, films like Batman and Robin were a big break for me, and all those steps have led me here. I am honestly lucky that I didn’t become famous much early, because as an actor, I was really bad,” he laughs.
‘Pitt and Jolie not buying property in the UAE’
All those who had hoped that Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would be our new neighbours here in Dubai after news reports confirmed the couple had purchased property on The World island project may have to wait a bit longer.
A close friend of Brad Pitt, actor George Clooney has
rubbished the claims made in news reports, saying: “I do not think Brad and Angie have invested in property in the UAE; in fact, it is highly unlikely that they have done so.”
Early last month, media reports claimed that Pitt and Jolie had purchased the island of Ethiopia on The World project, paying tribute to their adopted daughter Zahara who was born in the African country.
When asked whether he himself would purchase property in the UAE in the future, the Hollywood actor said: “I don’t think I have enough money to buy a home here. And whatever little amount that I do have is being saved for a rainy day.”