photo from stuart-online
From the Seattle Times May 22, 2008
Filmmaker Stuart Townsend eager to screen "Battle" at SIFF
by Moira Macdonald
The Seattle International Film Festival kicks off tonight with something unusual: a film with direct ties to our city. Stuart Townsend's drama "Battle in Seattle," which stars Charlize Theron, Martin Henderson and Woody Harrelson, takes place during the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle. Townsend, Theron, Henderson and other members of the cast will be in town tonight to walk the red carpet before the film's local premiere at McCaw Hall.
Townsend, a Dublin native who makes his writing/directing debut with "Battle in Seattle," said in a telephone interview that he'd long been wanting to tell this story. He remembered watching coverage of the WTO riots on television in Dublin, but said his interest was especially piqued by an essay by environmental writer Paul Hawken about the event several years later. "I thought, it'd be great to make a movie about something important," he said, remembering his own growing environmental and political awareness at the time. "When I read this essay, it really jumped out at me. I vaguely remembered this event, and no one had done a movie about it. I started to research it. I'd say within about five hours, I felt that I was going to tell this story."
From his home in Los Angeles (Townsend moved to the U.S. in 2001), he began the research process -- which took a year and a half. Though his film is a fictionalized story in which several characters' paths cross during the course of the Seattle WTO protests, Townsend wanted factual accuracy, and he studied several documentaries about the event (especially praising Jill Friedberg and Rick Rowley's "This Is What Democracy Looks Like"), devoured media coverage and numerous books about the event and took several trips to Seattle. "I went up there quite a few times very early on," he said. "I bought a Seattle map, and I started to map it out, from all my research, pinpointing where things happened. I love maps, so I really started to learn the city through the map and started to realize how the activist and direct action tactics had worked."
In his Seattle visits, Townsend said he "fell in love" with the city. "It's very much like Ireland; kind of grungy, very damp and gray but very beautiful. It was really hard not to film it all there." Ultimately -- like so many films set in Seattle -- "Battle in Seattle" was mostly shot in Vancouver, B.C., mainly for financial reasons. "My financiers were all Canadian," said Townsend. "It was cost efficient for them to shoot in Vancouver." He also noted the wealth of experienced crew in Vancouver, from several previous experiences shooting movies there. With only a 29-day shoot (in late 2006), he needed efficiency. "I could not have made this film in the time that we had without having such a great crew," he said. Townsend was, however, able to spend a few days shooting in Seattle for the film.
Locations included the top of the Space Needle ("That was amazing!"), outside the Paramount Theatre, at the Chief Seattle statue near Fifth Avenue, at the Convention Center, and some helicopter shots over the city. During production, a number of people involved with the original event helped Townsend with notes on the script. Activist John Sellers, of the Ruckus Society, was instrumental, as was Shannon Service, an activist arrested just before the WTO meetings for hanging an anti-WTO banner. Not present on set but also helpful were John Quigley (an "aerial artist" who formed protesters into human messages to be read from above); Mike Brune from the Rainforest Action Network; and Tom Wright, a maker of the WTO documentary "Trade Off." Though "Battle in Seattle" has already had a number of public screenings since its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, Townsend spoke of two crucial screenings.
The first was a small event for a group of activists in California, including many who were present at the WTO protests, and Townsend was pleased with the response. "I saw that they appreciated what I was trying to do. They didn't criticize me for the things I left out. They just appreciated where I was going and what I was doing." And now he's getting anxious for the Seattle screening. "I've showed this film in Dublin, to my home audience in the Savoy 1, which is the theater I grew up watching all my films in," he said. "I was nervous, but I'll be more nervous in Seattle, way more. Most screenings I go to, one person stands up and they say, I was in Seattle. This night it's going to be like, who wasn't in Seattle?" "I'm really proud of this film. I got to make the film that I want. But I also know that you can't make a film that everyone's going to love." Townsend said he's open to criticism and knows that the nature of filmmaking means that he's left out parts of the WTO story that locals may miss. "But ultimately," he said, "my mission as a filmmaker and a storyteller is to capture the spirit and hopefully create an inspirational film about an event that was really important."