Film RadarFilm Radar


advertise with Film Radar
Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Jul. 26, 2010 | 4:58 PM

Email Print

An Interview with Amir Bar-Lev, director of THE TILLMAN STORY

Pat Tillman was a successful professional football player who walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract to join the military.  He was not seeking publicity or attention and preferred to keep his reasons private.  He was killed by friendly fire prompting a cover up at the highest levels of the United States military.  His death was used as a propaganda tool leaving his family heartbroken and outraged.  They focused their energy on uncovering the truth about what happened to him and why.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Official Website

How did you first hear about the Tillman story?

I was first aware of Pat when he enlisted in 2002.

When did you realize that Pat’s real persona differed from what we were presented with in the media?

I’d say our “ah hah” moment occurred on the issue of Pat’s enlistment in the Army Rangers. That’s when we realized that nearly everything people think they know about Pat Tillman didn’t come from Pat himself. In reality, Pat Tillman steadfastly refused to discuss his reasons for enlisting. He couldn’t have been more clear: it was a personal decision, and he didn’t want to draw any special attention to himself when hundreds of thousands of men and woman make the same sacrifices outside of the media spotlight. So we put all the news mentions of his enlistment in chronological order. When you do that it reads like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or some kind of tragic version of Paul Bunyan. At first, the media begrudgingly compliments Tillman on his refusal to grant them interviews, even though you can tell it irks them to no end that they’re not getting a story. Immediately after his death they get a hold of this internal interview he gave to someone in the Cardinals organization. It’s the day after 9/11 and he’s as emotional as everyone was that day. It’s a full 6 months before he makes his decision to enlist. The first couple of times the media excerpts this interview they offer a caveat, some variation of “he never said why he enlisted, but he did offer some thoughts about sacrifice in this rare interview after 9/11.” But over time it’s as if they can’t help themselves, they must impose their narrative. They do an end run around the wishes of the very guy they’re supposed to be praising—they’ve gotten their hands on the interview Pat refused to give them. Soon they cease all mention of his refusal to grant an interview. The 9/12 interview becomes Pat’s interview about enlisting - they actually say, over and over again, “he explained his decision this way.” Finally they just short hand it by saying he decided to enlist the day after 9/11 —patently false of course but look at the effect. Almost anyone who you talk to about Pat Tillman will say he enlisted because of 9/11. Yet in his diary entry on the decision he never says anything about 9/11, America, patriotism, all the things his decision is associated with!

Was the idea of making a documentary difficult to broach with the family?

The Tillmans are a family with a very healthy sense of what is public and what is private. They have been very careful from the moment Pat died to avoid being anyone’s pawn, and to not cheapen their love for Pat by doing interview after interview talking about what a great guy he was. So the bottom line is they were very resistant at first to the idea of this film.

How did you gain their confidence or trust?

Funnily enough it started with me rather sheepishly handing over a DVD of my previous work, My Kid Could Paint That. Which ends with me estranged from the family I was making a film about. But after that it was about trying our best to have the film reflect the Tillman sensibility. Which means trying to make it restrained, trying to avoid maudlin and cheap sentimentality. Trying to be nuanced and to restore some humanity to Pat. We worked very closely with the family and in many ways it was a collaboration. The film couldn’t have been made without Dannie’s book :Boots on the Ground By Dusk”, which we basically used as a kind of script.

Was it difficult to get other people outside the family to appear on camera?

None of the soldiers who actually fired at Pat would consent to an interview. We were only able to get one person from the military leadership to agree to speak to us - General Philip Kensinger. And then we have 3 of Pat’s platoon mates in the film. By sheer fate, one of these soldiers, who was very close to Pat and plays a crucial role in the film, happens to have been directly in the line of an ESPN camera during Pat’s memorial service. This is while he was under orders not to tell the family the full story, and I swear you see him turning it over and over in his head in close up cutaways shot by a news DP who had no way of knowing who he was or what his role would turn out to be in Pat’s story. And the other guy this cameraman keeps landing on in the sea of people is Philip Kensinger. Who stands accused of attending this service while knowing a lot more than he told the family. So even before we got on the project we had some crucial b roll being collected for our interviews down the line.

Are you going to try to show this film to any military groups and officials in Washington?

Yes, of course. There are a handful of people involved in this cover up who need to be real men and apologize for what they’ve done.

What do you hope that people take away from the film?

That’s a question most filmmakers will evade, and I’m no different. Tim O’Brian says that “a true war story is never moral.” I hope that whatever conclusions anyone takes away from this film, they’ll also prod and question those same conclusions. Thinking that way is a great tribute to the memory of Pat: he tried to see things from opposing sides, reading, for instance, the Book of Mormon although he was an atheist. I’ve tried to fashion the film to provoke this kind of thinking when possible; I’ve always hoped that film exists in the kind of liminal space where people can make up their own minds, even though of course I and the film have an opinion. That’s one of the reasons I worked hard to license Neil Young’s Hawks and Doves for the open and end credits:, it seems to share that sensibility. It’s human nature to seek the “clear cut good guys and bad guys” as former Ranger Stan Goff says in the film, but the life and death of Pat Tillman challenges us to see the world differently.

When did you first decide to become a filmmaker?

I studied comparative religion in college. I didn’t see myself being in academia so I opted to go for the big bucks and get into the lucrative world of documentary. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson: In case you can’t tell, I’m being facetious.

What films and filmmakers inspire you?

The early work of Resnais, anything from the Italian neo Realists, the whole Japanese school of “Nuberu Bagu,” roughly translated as—no I’m kidding, just trying to sound smart. My favorite film is This Is Spinal Tap.

What is your next project?

I’m trying to do something on the Grateful Dead. We’ll see what happens.


  1. Very good interview.  I was sorry I missed this

    Posted by Gordon S. Miller on 07/27 at 01:45 PM
  2. Pat was killed on purpose, he was murdered because he was going to speak out against the war and tell the world how America was there to guard the poppy fields for the rich gun running, drug running elite New World Order cronies that started this war and all the wars.  I really hope that he gets into some of the conspiracies involved in why he was murdered.

    Posted by kimpunkrock on 08/06 at 10:29 AM