7 Days in Entebbe director José Padilha, along with stars Daniel Brühl and Ben Schnetzer graced the red carpet to discuss their time working on the film, being present for a real-hijacking, and working with screenwriter Gregory Burke.
A hijacking is rarely ever seen from both sides of the aisle. It’s a highly emotive event, one that is almost always going to be seen as a terrorist act. After all, people are being forcefully detained, threatened with their lives, typically for a political or social cause. That was the case for Air France Flight 139 en route to Paris from Tel Aviv, which was hijacked by two German left-wing revolutionaries and two Palestinians who diverted the flight to Entebbe, Uganda. There, they dictated their demands, all while Israel was preparing to take military action and forcefully remove the threat and save their citizens by any means necessary.
José Padilha decided to explore the circumstances of the hijacking, an event which has been covered by film and television four times since the events transpired nearly forty years ago. But what Padilha manages to do is paint a bipartisan picture that showcases every which side of this tale–the Palestinians’, the Germans’, the Israelis’, and the hostages’ as well. It was a tricky maneuver that provides a multi-perspective of the contentious events that ended in a rescue operation by Israeli Defense Forces. The Knockturnal had the opportunity to talk with director José Padilha as well as stars Daniel Brühl and Ben Schnetzer as they graced the red carpet about their time on the film, their preparations for the nonfictional story, and working with famed screenwriter Gregory Burke. Check out what they had to say below.
JOSÉ PADILHA INTERVIEW
The Knockturnal: Your background started in documentary, and you were very much involved in that in the beginning. Does that at any time inform a lot of your filmmaking decisions that you do now?
Jose Padilha: Yeah, I mean, almost everything I do is about real life. Other than RoboCop, everything else that I did is realistic. I think it does because when you do too many documentaries, you start being very aware of what are the constraints of drama. Even though you can choose to do flashbacks and use music and do certain camera techniques and so on, at the same time your freedom is constrained by the real facts that you’re talking about, and you can’t just make up anything. You have to at least have some take on what really happened. I would say that reality-based fiction is constrained by real events, and as a documentary filmmaker, I guess I’m always aware of that.
The Knockturnal: Is that what drew you to work with Gregory Burke, because of his feature ‘71 again dealing a lot with reality and real events? It seemed like this was a natural draw between you two. How did that relationship happen?
Jose Padilha: When I read the script and I loved it. As simple as that. I thought it was amazing work by Gregory. Then Gregory’s the nicest man on earth. He is an amazing play writer. So I got the screenplay from him, it was there. Yes. It was a pleasure. One of the best things on this project was working with Gregory Burke.
The Knockturnal: And you actually before the documentary, from my understanding, you were also very interested in politics and literature. You were a much more serious Oxford academic, and then you transitioned, I think slowly, naturally to filmmaking.
Jose Padilha: Well, you know, I ended up working in investment banking business.
The Knockturnal: Really?
Jose Padilha: Yes. And that got me really depressed.
The Knockturnal: Understandably so [laughs].
Jose Padilha: Yes. And then I took a sabbatical, and I went and I shot a documentary with a friend for fun. The documentary made it Sundance. It’s called the Charcoal People. I produced it. Then I decided to do another one just for fun. Then I did one called Bus 174 also made it to Sundance. And then I’m here. I’m still on a sabbatical. It’s the longest sabbatical of all time. I can claim that. You know, 30 years of sabbatical.
The Knockturnal: Well, it’s been a very productive sabbatical, I’ll let you know that.
Jose Padilha: It’s a good thing, yes.
DANIEL BRÜHL INTERVIEW
The Knockturnal: So interesting story, you’re making a movie about a hijacking, and yet there was a hijacking at Entebbe on location from what I understand. Did that at all ever freak you out, or how did you deal with that?
Daniel Brühl: It did because it just happened, I think, a day after I left. It was just before Christmas, and I could not believe it when, Jose was the one who sent me the message, and then I had to double check and I went to some, I read some article in a German magazine. I could just, I couldn’t believe because it seemed so old school, the fact that there was still a plane hijacking, I mean, these hijackings actually stopped after ’76 and ’77. And because in these cases the military missions were successful, they stopped doing so. There were a few other ones, but not in a long time. So it felt surreal that somebody with, I think, as far as I remember, fake hand grenades or guns, went and hijacked that plane, which was on its way from I think Libya, Tunisia, to Malta. It was something very crazy.
The Knockturnal: Yes, absolutely. It seemed like it was a hard time to come to terms with that, and going off on that, did you, preparing for Böse, or Böse, I don’t know how to pronounce that, I mean you’re the better, you’re the one who speaks German here, but when you were preparing for the role, did you ever look into his background and try to determine sort of the motivation behind his thinking from being a revolutionary? Or did you go into it a lot more of, “I’m going to do it in my own way?”
Daniel Brühl: No, no, no, I did a lot of fair research, because when you play a real character you feel a certain responsibility because you want to be as truthful and authentic as it can possibly be. Interesting thing is that there is not that much information about Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann. In Germany and the rest of the world, people know about Baader-Meinhof, and all these guys, but not that much about them, so thankfully the producers, Kate Solomon and also the scriptwriter, Gregory Burke, are real experts in that field and know, have been researching a lot about terrorism in the ’70s. So they provided us with all the information that Rosamund [Pike] and I needed; long interviews with eyewitnesses, and unpublished texts that my character had published, and rare copies of the books of the terror group they were involved with.
So that was very interesting, but some of the most crucial and important information I got from the guys who were really there, so especially the flight engineer, who’s still alive. I needed as an actor, I needed to know from him what happened there, and as he was spending all that time with Böse and they entered sort of a friendship, almost like a Stockholm Syndrome. I knew that this was 100% reliable information because there was so many contradictions, and so many different versions of it, including things that the soldier who killed my character told me. But I knew that of course, that was his perception, and his perspective, which is absolutely understandable. But I wanted to know it from someone who spent the last moments with him, and when he told me that he looked into the barrel, and my character made the deliberate choice not to kill anyone, I stick to that and I wanted to believe in that, because I thought there’s no reason for him to not tell me the truth.
The Knockturnal: How did you feel, being a German national, how did you feel about the comparisons between the Nazism and the actions of your character? Did you feel it was bipartisan, that it was trying to include a different perspective, trying to include both sides? Or, how did you feel about that?
Daniel Brühl: I mean it was a weird, mad mission, and even within the world of Left Wing terrorists and activists, that operation was seen as something very extreme and going a bit too far. But that was precisely what interested me to play someone who came from a safe environment, being a bourgeoisie book publisher, being then engaged and being a committed political activist, but then to go that extra step and then participating in a mission in which a plane with Jewish passengers was kidnapped, because in order to fight against fascism in the world, in his own country, supporting the Palestinian, but still hijacking a plane with Jewish passengers is still incredible. To show the struggle, the doubts, that he went through when he realized that he’s in the midst of it, and then he is not theorizing anymore, but really dealing with actual people. Seeing an old woman with the number tattooed on her forearm. Being cornered by a Palestinian terrorist who is asking, “Why the hell are you here?” I mean, it’s just naïve, you know—a dream, whereas are you actually realizing what you’re doing. All these struggles and inner conflicts were interesting for me to portray.
BEN SCHNETZER INTERVIEW
The Knockturnal: So, you had a very intense role, obviously, as an Israeli army soldier. How did you prepare for that role? Did you actually get involved with the project?
Ben Schnetzer: Yes, I went to Israel for a couple weeks before we started filming, trained with some Israeli guys there. They have to take exams to get into certain special forces units, and certain people will train guys who are in the military, who are trying to take the test. So Kate, our producer, put me in touch with one of these guys, and so I trained with him. Then we had two weeks of boot camp once we got to Malta, to work on the choreography of the raid, to learn how to shoot the guns, and we just worked with guys who are in the Sayeret Matkal and knew what they were doing, and a couple of gentlemen who were on the raid. So, it was pretty intensive work, and then once we started filming, we kind of just trusted that homework was there and went for it. Just listened to what Jose said, basically. And he was very candid about just being like, like José’s Litmus test, where if it’s good or not, was, “Is it badass, it’s badass or it’s not badass.” And he was very much just like, “Right, we need to do it again, because that wasn’t badass enough.” And you’re like, “All right. Cool. We’ll get it.”
The Knockturnal: How did you feel about the incorporation of three narratives in this? How did you feel in the incorporation between your relationship with your girlfriend in the film and how it kind of represented almost like a mirror of the relationship that Rosamund had with Daniel?
Ben Schnetzer: It’s, you know, I thought it was, I’m really glad because sometimes in stories that are so narrative driven, details like that, character details like that sometimes get lost in the editing room, and I was really glad to see that storyline kept its integrity and remained intact, because I think it just humanizes the experience on, in both those narratives. Those interpersonal relationships keep the story grounded in humanity, and keeps it from becoming a political thriller with no humanity.
Catch 7 Days in Entebbe in theaters March 16.