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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Clooney raises the heat in Venice
By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News entertainment reporter in Venice

George Clooney
Clooney hopes his new film will raise a debate about civil liberties
Actor George Clooney has insisted that his second directorial outing - Good Night and Good Luck - is not intended as a political statement.

He says the movie, which premieres at the Venice Film Festival, centres on the question: "Should fear be used to take away certain civil liberties?"

Speaking at a packed press conference in the Palazzo del Casino, Clooney says: "My goal is not to attack any administration, my goal is to raise a debate."

The 44-year-old actor, known for his outspoken attacks on the Bush government, says his film focused on a period in the 1950s which saw US broadcaster Edward R Murrow confront the actions of Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy.

Mirrors current events

McCarthy's often baseless accusations saw countless American citizens exposed as Communist sympathisers, often costing them their livelihoods, family and friends.

"I grew up as a fan of Murrow, and of his speeches of the time," says Clooney, who plays Murrow's producer Fred Friendly in the film.

producer Grant Heslov, actors David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson and George Clooney
Grant Heslov (left) with David Strathairn and Patricia Clarkson
"I didn't make the film as a political statement, I made the film as a historical reference."

But the actor-turned-director admits the circumstances do bear relevance to current events, particularly given the fact that there will be another vote on US anti-terror legislation the Patriot Act in October.

"I'm not a snob, I like entertaining films as well. But when you do a film like this, or like Three Kings - films that get you in a bit of trouble - it's fun to open up a debate."

"It's true information is harder to get these days," adds Clooney, whose father Nick, a former TV anchorman, became disillusioned with the news and retired to run for Congress last year.

George Clooney
Clooney's film examines broadcasting and news journalism
"When I was growing up there were three networks - three news shows, delivering the same information. You took that information into your home and you formed your own opinions."

"Now we have 130 channels. You go to the channel that plays to your belief pattern. We start with different sets of facts, it's more polarising."

In approaching the film, Clooney - who co-wrote the script with producer Grant Heslov - took a journalistic approach, double sourcing every scene in the film and cementing the script in fact.

Original footage

In line with this documentary-style approach, the film-makers chose to use actual footage of Senator McCarthy rather than cast an actor in the role.

To avoid accusations that he was demonising the senator, "the trick was to show the actual McCarthy, doing what he did," says Clooney.

EDWARD R MURROW FACTS
Edward Murrow (centre)
Edward R Murrow was at the forefront of US radio and TV news from 1930s to the 1960s
He gained recognition for his rooftop broadcasts from London during 1940's Battle of Britain
He earned a popular following with TV series Person to Person, interviewing stars live from their own homes
He was said never to be seen without a cigarette
A plaque in New York's CBS HQ bears his image with the inscription: "He set standards of excellence that remain unsurpassed"
He died of cancer in 1965 at the age of 57
"Nobody could be as bad as he was," said Mr Heslov, who joined Clooney at the press conference with stars David Strathairn, who plays Murrow, and Patricia Clarkson.

In order to effectively blend the footage into the film, the film-makers also took the decision to film the entire movie in black and white.

The effect, combined with the fact that most of the lines in the film were written by Murrow 50 years ago, beautifully evokes what Clarkson calls "the glory days of TV".

The film finishes with Murrow making a speech attacking the declining standards of TV in 1958, and the dangers of giving corporations too much editorial control.

"The situation is not unfixable, but I don't think it's reversible either," echoes Clooney, speaking about the current state of US television.

"It's been a long time since broadcasters were the most trusted men in America."


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