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FSR Interview: Joshua Seftel Takes Charge of ‘War, Inc.’

Josh Seftel, director of War, Inc.

How bad can war profiteering be? The film War, Inc. examines what might be the future of war and global corporate politics. The film, which stars John Cusack (who also serves as co-writer and producer) as an ex-CIA assassin who now runs a trade show business in the fictional war-torn country of Turaqistan.

Director Joshua Seftel, whose background is in television and documentaries, takes some satirical shots at the current administration and the globalization of American culture, especially when it takes place at the expense of others.

“I think that one of the implications of the film is that one of the motivations of the war – or for making war okay – is that we can profit from it,” Seftel told Film School Rejects. “For me personally, there’s certainly something depressing about globalization and about faraway places losing their unique character or being taken over by sort of Americanization of the globe. But what’s even more depressing is the idea that we go into a place, take it over, kill innocent people and then set up our businesses and corporations.”

The movie was inspired by the article “Baghdad Year Zero” by Naomi Klein. “So much of the film is really ripped from the headlines,” Seftel said. Yet, to keep the film entertaining, it was placed in a not-too-distant future with a satirical bent.

“The writers had in mind that this is a satire,” Seftel explained. “Anyone can go read about it… and see some of these things have really actually happened. And then others are then playful, satirical versions of things that have happened.”

Seftel uses humor as a key to all of his films, including his documentaries which he considers comedies in some lights. “I think humor is a key,” he said. “I feel like anytime you can give humor with a message, it’s usually a lot of fun.”

To a red-blooded American moviegoer like myself, the introspective nature of the film is interesting. But even more interesting is the use of seminal nice girl Hilary Duff as the slutty middle-eastern pop star Yonica Babyyeah. And it had to be asked to Seftel: What was it like getting Hilary Duff to look and act like a slut?

“We tried really hard,” Seftel admits. In order to achieve the perfect slutty look, he printed out various photos from the internet and chose the trampiest aspect of each one. “It was based on some of our trampiest pop stars,” Seftel said. “And we dressed her up and put the make-up on, and she still looked pretty adorable. We were sort of worried and kept adding more make-up and more purple hair extensions. Then we hit the threshold where we thought she looked trampy enough to play the part.”

Other ways Seftel used to get Duff into character was to have her keep a journal in Yonica’s voice.

Another quirk from the film is John Cusack’s character’s habit of chugging hot sauce to suppress the guilt and pain he feels. Of course, it wasn’t real hot sauce in the shots, but I had to wonder if anyone tried the technique on the set. “Honestly, I never did. I should have if I was a great director, I would have taken the hot sauce,” Seftel said. “I don’t really like Tabasco. I never really have.”

So did he encourage Cusack to drink the sauce like he encouraged Duff to keep her trampy diary? “No,” he said, but added, “I’ll bet he probably did try it, knowing him. He’s a pretty tough guy.”

War, Inc. is currently in limited release in NY and LA, but will be expanding on June 13 to Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Austin. The DVD will be released on October 14th.

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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