‘SEAL Team Six’ crew: Film not intended to help Obama
The talent behind the forthcoming feature television film “SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden” told The Daily Caller at a Thursday screening that the docudrama is not meant to boost President Barack Obama’s re-election hopes.
How is releasing a film that highlights Obama’s top military achievement two days before the presidential election not political? The filmmakers said the timing has more to do with beating the Dec. 19 release date of “Zero Dark Thirty,” another film that recounts the hunt for bin Laden.
“We wanted to be first,” explained “SEAL Team Six” writer Kendall Lampkin, who said he is a registered Republican. “There’s value in being first, and that’s where we began to speed up the process.”
High-profile Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein, who gave $5,000 to Obama’s re-election campaign in 2011 and hosted an Obama fundraiser in August, is an executive producer of the film. But director John Stockwell insisted that “SEAL Team Six” is not propaganda.
The crowd that saw the film at the Washington, D.C. screening “got to see that it’s an engaging, balanced portrayal of what really happened, and that it was done in a nonpartisan way,” Stockwell told TheDC. “It’s not a DNC-funded, pro-Obama piece.”
Stockwell said that unlike the producers of “Zero Dark Thirty,” his team received no assistance from the White House. Stockwell, Lampkin and the producers relied on publicly available information about the raid, including statements from the White House, Obama’s interview with NBC’s “Rock Center” and news stories — many of which were based on intelligence leaks from the Obama administration.
Obama is featured prominently throughout the film, which opens by contrasting his lighthearted appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner with the somber preparation of the Navy SEALs just before the raid.
White House video shows the president with his advisers, and audio from Obama’s “Rock Center” interview is used as a voiceover during several scenes. A clip from the 2008 presidential town hall debate shows Obama promising to hunt down bin Laden and John McCain attacking Obama for “talking loudly” on terrorism.
The film also features clips from the president’s East Room address to the nation after bin Laden was killed.
But “SEAL Team Six” devotes more substantial screen time to the soldiers and the intelligence community, telling a story of conflict and teamwork in both camps. The film features several scenes from former President George W. Bush’s administration, but Bush himself is never shown.
In a key scene at the beginning of the film, a U.S. interrogator at Guantanamo Bay threatens to turn over a suspected member of al-Qaida to be tortured by the Saudi Arabian government. The al-Qaida member finally tells the interrogator the name of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who eventually leads U.S. intelligence officials to bin Laden himself.
Then-CIA Director Leon Panetta plays a prominent role, gathering updates from subordinates and briefing Obama. At one point, he rebukes an overly zealous CIA officer by saying that Obama is “staking his presidency” on the raid, and that if it goes wrong, Obama alone will take the blame.
If anyone has the right to be upset about how they are portrayed in “SEAL Team Six,” it’s Pakistan. The country’s police officials are portrayed as ineffective, and its government as hopelessly bureaucratic.
And the Pakistani military in the film is easily duped by American fighter jet pilots, who urge Pakistani planes to return to their base instead of investigating the U.S. helicopters spotted in Abbottabad.
On the other hand, “SEAL Team Six” chronicles the bravery of several native Pakistanis, including Dr. Shakil Afridi and two men working with the CIA.
The writer Lampkin, who was hired two weeks after the May 1, 2011, raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, told TheDC that without access to classified national security documents, the team researched military and intelligence protocol to fill in the gaps in the story.
He said he believes the film is as accurate as possible, adding that the soldiers’ personalities were the only fictionalized part of the account.
Former Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, now head of the Motion Picture Association of America, co-hosted the screening and told TheDC that the film will not likely affect many people’s votes.
“I guess if you don’t like the president, then you wish the story weren’t being told, but if you happen to like what these SEALs did, if you happen to like the decision-making process — how careful they were, the intelligence community — what’s wrong with celebrating what a group of patriotic Americans did on behalf of our country?” Dodd asked. “I mean, everything’s not political.”
“SEAL Team Six” is scheduled to premiere Sunday at 8 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.