TIFF 2014: That Jon Stewart Movie Is Pretty Great

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Some Hollywood media have dismissed Rosewater, helmed by Jon Stewart, as a novelty since it's attracting an extraordinary amount of attention primarily because its director is a star in his own right. The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy went so far as to write, "If this same film had been made by an unknown director, it would pass in the night with only scant notice," and Complex.com's Eric Snider wrote "Rosewater is a fine first film, but that's about it."

Asking us to ignore the fact that Stewart directed Rosewater is as illogical as asking Stewart to ignore the fact that Maziar Bahari appeared on The Daily Show, which did not go unnoticed by Bahari's captors and tormentors, who held him in a Tehran prison for five months in 2009.

"There was an immediate sense of panic when we first found out about his imprisonment," Stewart told Boise Weekly minutes before the curtain went up at Monday night's premiere of Rosewater at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Bahari was tossed into solitary confinement after the Iranian government accused him of being an American spy—he was, in fact, a Newsweek journalist from Canada. While imprisoned, Bahari looked at some words scratched into the cell wall: 

"خدا رحمت من ممکن است." Translation: "May God have mercy on me."

What followed was a stunning chronicle of how Bahari survived to tell his story in his bestselling memoir, Then They Came for Me. After a return appearance on The Daily Show, Bahari later asked Stewart if he knew anyone who might be interested in turning his book into a screenplay.

"When he asked me to help him turn his book into a movie, I said, 'Sure. Yeah,'" Stewart told BW. "I knew nothing about making a movie."

After being turned down by several screenwriters, Stewart completed the treatment himself, periodically sending drafts to Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard, who gave the script his blessing. The result is really something. It crackles with urgency.

Stewart, who talks to some of the world's best filmmakers for a living, admitted he's a bit intimidated by the film festival scene.

"This is a very big deal," he said, eyes widening with a blend of fear and pride as he surveyed a crush of photographers and fans. "Our hope is that Maziar's story gets out with the widest berth possible. So, yes, this pretty exciting."

When Rosewater opens nationwide in November, it will probably be known as "that Jon Stewart movie," which I think is pretty high praise indeed.