Kari Skogland discusses ‘Fifty Dead Men Walking’

by W. Andrew Powell

Jim Sturgess and Kari Skogland at the 2008 TIFF

Jim Sturgess and Kari Skogland at the 2008 TIFF

Late last year I had the opportunity to visit the set of CTV’s Toronto-based television drama, The Listener, and sat down for a few minutes to speak with writer, director and producer Kari Skogland, who was directing an episode of the new series.

Prior to that meeting I had screened Skogland’s latest film, Fifty Dead Men Walking, at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, and I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say about making this drama, which had caused some controversy considering its volatile subject matter.

Starring Jim Sturgess, with Sir Ben Kingsley, Rose McGowan, and Kevin Zegers, Fifty Dead Men Walking is a dramatic thriller about the real-life trials of Irish Republican Army volunteer, and double agent, Martin McGartland.

Set in the 1980s, the story is based loosely on McGartland’s book, Fifty Dead Men Walking: The Terrifying True Story of a Secret Agent Inside the IRA, and looks back on the days when he worked as a tipster for the British police, while he volunteered for the IRA.

Although Skogland and I spoke mostly about The Listener, she did have a bit to say about her movie, which at the time was still awaiting a theatrical release date.

“It was fantastic,” Skogland said to me. “It was definitely a highlight of my career to date and was very empowering, not only creatively, but telling a story while we were very much on the nexus of change.”

“I think the sensibility [in Ireland] has been peaceful for a while,” but as she explained, both sides had only shaken hands a few months before she arrived in the country. “That indicated to me just how raw the situation still was.”

“What was fantastic about it was that everybody wanted to tell the story, and tell a truthful story.”

“Reflecting back on history we have the wonderful advantage of modern times, and it changes how you can look at something. Information is more readily available, and people have reflected a little bit perhaps, and so on.”

She also adapted McGartland’s book before she went to Ireland, planning to make any necessary changes to characters or story once she got there.

“It was during that time that I was really embraced by the people on all sides.”

Of course, the truth is also that, much like the story, Skogland had to walk a fine line to make this film.

“It was crystal clear to me that I did not want to make a politicized movie,” Skogland said.

“The politics were in there, they had to be, but it was really about the human condition and how an everyman can be a hero and what that might cost you. And that’s the conundrum. There’s no easy answers, for sure.”

Fifty Dead Men Walking opens across Canada today.

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