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TriBeCa Interview: In The Loop's Armando Ianucci and the Politics of War

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Armando Ianucci/Photo by Leslie Hassler

By Matthew-Lee Erlbach and Carmelo Larose

Armando Iannucci is a columnist on the Observer, who has produced, hosted and written extensively for radio and television comedy, including his BBC 4 hit, The Thick of It. His film, In the Loop, a political satire which follows the inept UK and US administrations on the lead-up to war, is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival this week. Go to for more info.

In the Loop is propelled by these characters concerned more with their own career than their country; is this hyperbolizing what we have learned about our government or would you say this is a pretty accurate depiction?

AI: I mean for example in Washington with the lead up to Iraq there were so many people who were against it, but very, very few people actually resigned. Other people did some tactical things, like ask to get moved to the Central American desk or to take early retirement...or in the UK that happened. A lot of the military was against the idea, but many waited until they retired and then they spoke out and it's with things like that where you realize there could have been more forceful opposition inside. And two weeks ago there was a Senior Civil Serviceman Whitehall who before a parliament committee asked about the gathering of all the evidence by intelligence because Blair persuaded the UK parliament to vote on the basis of a document that was actually just cut and pasted from other documents, that sort of thing...

Yes, in the film documents were handled so carelessly. It made me wonder whether these inner workings of government and the preparation for war were fictionalized or based on actual events?

AI: Alastair Campbell--Blair's Chief Director of Communication and Strategy, and who's behind all of this--he watched the film and said it was unconvincing, picking out a couple of incidents that happened in the film saying they were examples of how unbelievable the film was. It turned out those incidents were based on things that actually did happen.

Which incidents in particular?

AI: The bits about setting up a committee with a dull name like the Future Strategies Committee and then everyone in the room and the Senate finding out that it was to investigate bombing and invading Iran and Syria.

Does the media play the same role in Europe as it does in the United States? Does the media have any determining role in policy?

AI: I find the media are actually not as forensic and analytical as they could be. I found that the media actually got steamrolled six years ago so you'd end up with newspapers publishing apologies for being taken in...I think what's powerful is politicians' obsession with the media, the fear that they might come across badly or sound bad and so on and their attempts to do damage control. That seems to drive a lot of policy but I don't get the feeling that the media that the media or the mainstream media is probing. And because the news is 24 hours, there's less opportunity to stand back and analyze because there is so much reporting to do.

Do you think that satire borders a little bit on cynicism? How do you think this is effective in terms of increasing public consciousness?

AI: Well, it's not that comedy or satire can change anything. You'll just write boring comedy, but also the comedy will not work. People will not laugh at it if they don't get some sense that there's some essence of truth in it. Of course you exaggerate it, you distort it. You're making it into a fiction, but if it's based on stuff that's not real or that people don't actually feel then they're not gonna be interested in any of it. So you see the stuff I do is born out of what I see.

Lastly, what did you shoot the film on? It had a very personal quality to it.

AI: I shot it on HD, two cameras. I like to be able to improvise but also get a real, cinema verite film, so they don't get the feel that they're getting something with too much nicely composed shots and music. I wanted it to feel raw like you're eavesdropping.