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Monday, 2 September, 2002, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
Harrison Ford defends sub drama
Harrison Ford in K-19
Ford dismissed the poor box office figures
Harrison Ford and director Kathryn Bigelow have defended controversial nuclear submarine thriller K-19 after bitter protests from veterans.

The story of the submarine crew's 1961 battle to prevent a nuclear meltdown in the Atlantic at a cost of eight lives has fared badly at the US box office.

Bigelow, speaking at the Venice film festival, said her underwater epic was a chance to humanise former Cold War enemies.

Scene from K-19
Eight men lost their lives in the tragedy
But after reading a draft script veterans' groups in Russia decried their portrayal as "a bunch of alcoholics and illiterates".

Although producers say all references to drunken incompetence were cut out of the final film, members of the original crew are still angry.

They say the portrayal by Ford of the captain as a "soulless militant" who is arrested and handcuffed by his officers at one point is "farcical and absurd".

Seven crew members sent an open letter to the Venice festival saying they were "surprised and saddened" that it was being shown.

"It is unthinkably painful to us that this film... will be considered a reference upon which the new generation of film-goers including our own children will form ideas about us and our comrades."

Producers' motivations

But Ford said there had been efforts to explain to veterans the aims of the film.

"When we started the film there were some questions among the crew about our motivations and we met with many of the survivors and... represented our intention to acknowledge the sacrifice that those men made.

"I think the concerns were addressed years ago."

Edoardo Ponti and Sophia Loren
Loren has been accused of helping her son
Bigelow said not all the survivors had complained about the script.

"I have spent a lot of time between 1995 and 2000 meeting with survivors while making the script.

"Many times in my meetings I would find myself embraced by them with tear-stained faces saying you must tell our story."

Few American films have taken the Soviet perspective, and Bigelow hopes this unusual aspect will help win over European audiences.

"The single-most inspiring element of this picture is the theme of humanity - and that's able to cross all geopolitical lines," Bigelow insisted.

"It's an opportunity perhaps to heal old wounds."

Common humanity

Ford agreed, insisting: "The international language of film is emotion.

"Our common humanity is exercised by seeing how people react to a situation that may be tragic."

K-19 opened in the US in mid-July and had earned $34m (£22m) up to last week - putting it in 51st place among this year's releases, according to the Box Office Report website.

Steven Soderbergh and Jules Asner
Soderbergh has had Oscar success
Meanwhile, veteran comedy director Dino Risi, who accused Sophia Loren of carrying out "Operation Mamma" to get her son's first film shown at the festival, says people took his comments too seriously.

"I was joking," he told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "I wrote her an affectionate little apology note."

Loren returned to the Venice festival after years away to promote her son Edoardo Ponti's film Between Strangers, which she also stars in. The film received weak reviews and a number of boos from critics at its première.

And Steven Soderbergh is using his time at Venice to attack critics who "don't get" his new film Full Frontal.

Full of stars like Julia Roberts and David Duchovny, appearing for a pittance, the low budget hand-held film tells the story of quirky and dysfunctional relationships in Los Angeles.

"The critics have taken Full Frontal seriously whereas in fact it is a satire," Soderbergh told reporters.

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