On Wednesday, October 14th “The Diplomat,” a documentary about the life of the legacy American diplomat Richard Holbrooke premiered at One Time Warner Center.
The film is directed by David Holbrooke, Richard’s eldest son, who also directed Hard as Nails, which aired on HBO in December 2007. His other works include Freaks Like Me, Time for a New God and A Redwood Grows in Brooklyn. He also produced long-form pieces for The Today Show, CBS News and CNN, has been a contributing editor at GQ and written for the Huffington Post.
In the Diplomat, David Holbrooke “get[s] to know [his father] better in death,” David says, “than I ever did in life.” The senior Holbrooke’s singular career spanned fifty years of American foreign policy- from his early years as a foreign service officer in Vietnam through his success in securing a peace between Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, and finally, to his work as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the film, David interviews the many people who had personal relationships with Richard Holbrooke including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Wesley Clark, David Petraeus, Kofi Annan, Diane Sawyer, Bob Woodward, and foreign presidents past and current. The film is a frank portrait of Richard Holbrooke’s relationships with his sons. It gives insight into Holbrooke’s public persona: a single-named celebrity in certain circles, the “diplomatic hope of a generation,” contrasted against a man his sons struggled to know better. The film shows that Richard’s fatherhood weighed against ambition, drive and the force required to affect change throughout the world. The documentary takes you behind the scenes of high stakes diplomacy where peace is waged and wars are ended.
The film premieres on HBO Monday, November 2 – the 20th anniversary of Holbrooke’s crowning achievement: the Dayton Peace Accords which ended the war in Bosnia. Check out our red carpet interviews with David Holbrooke and the producer of the film, Stacey Reiss:
Q: When did you know you wanted to make a documentary film about your father?
David Holbrooke: It was about month after his death when I stood on a stage with President Obama, Hillary Clinton and former President Clinton – with all these luminaries and realized he was a historical figure and felt that story really needed to be told. At first I thought someone else should do it but then I realized that I really needed to understand him better and so I set out. It was a crazy odyssey but here we are, the film is coming out on HBO.
Q: Did you know how you wanted to structure the film?
David Holbrooke: I knew that I wanted to have a voice in it so what I set out to do my story of his life. I knew there were two things that were important- 1 there was a linear structure: so we started during his first job at Vietnam, then into Bosnia and finally Afghanistan. I followed his life but I also knew sadly it was going to end with his death so that was really important. The other thing is I wanted to go to the places he had worked in. I wanted to go with the people who had been there with him and so that was the key to the film. To be in Afghanistan was one thing but to be there with Dexter Filkins who covered him for The New Yorker and The New York Times was another thing. This gave me an insight both in the person and in the place.
Q: Do you feel like there were parts of your father that you did not know about but uncovered throughout the making of the film?
David Holbrooke: Sure, there was lots that I learned about him now that I spent 4 years making it. I hope that it’s something everybody does- speak to their parents and interview them and just sit down with them because I never had the chance to actually interview him while he was alive.
Q: How did you get involved in this project?
Stacey Reiss: After David’s father died, he called me up and asked if I was interested in working with him on a film about his father and I knew Richard as David’s dad because David and I are friends but I didn’t know all of his work so I lept at the opportunity and got the opportunity to see all the work that he did as we traveled around the world.
Q: Have you produced other films?
Stacey Reiss: This is my 3rd HBO documentary and interestly each of the films I’ve done for HBO are about people and it’s often about a person not necessarily known by name but once you know their work it sheds light on who they are. This is another example, not everybody knows Richard Holbrooke by name but they certainly know about the Dayton Peace Accords, the work that he accomplished.