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Interview with George Gittoes

Aired March 1, 2010 - 16:49:00   ET



GEORGE GITTOES, ARTIST & FILMMAKER: My name is George Gittoes.

I'm an artist and filmmaker. And since I was quite young, I've been going to virtually every war zone in the world.

Everywhere around me today, they're burning CDs and music.

My pictures are not really about soldiers going over the hill, you know, with a gun and -- and that kind of thing. It's -- it's more about the impact on the civilians.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Gittoes' latest endeavor is the film, "Miscreants of Taliwood," which documents his attempt to make a local Pashtun action film in the heartland of the anti- entertainment Taliban.

GITTOES: And the Pashtun films are teaching people that there is a life worth living in this life. The Taliban feels so threatened by these movies, they've closed them down.

ANDERSON: George faces daily dangers in his attempts to depict the realities of life for those caught up in war zones.

GITTOES: Making this film, I was in terror central. It's the most dangerous place on Earth. And that's the hardest thing to deal with, is constantly having to fight your own instinct to run, you know, to leave.

ANDERSON: But the compulsion to carry on with his work has proved ultimately stronger.

GITTOES: The reason why I do this is that I hate war. I hate destruction. And it's -- if all my life has done is to take -- to go and create where there's all this destruction going on, that's enough.

ANDERSON: George Gittoes is your Connector of the Day.


ANDERSON: And George joins me now from CNN's studios in New York.

George, an absolute pleasure to have you.

Let's get right to these questions from the viewers,

Nigel asks: "What images from your career in conflict, if any, haunt you the most?"

GITTOES: Well, the most haunting one at the moment is being in that mosque in Peshawar where a suicide bomber had gone in. He'd -- he'd said to everyone, "I don't see you anymore, I just see the houris" -- the -- the angels of paradise. And then he blew people to the ceiling.

And a beautiful old man came up to me and said, you know, I fought for this country. I've -- I've had tear gas and everything.

And what's happening?

You know, we're having these bombs and we're being shot at. And then he took me up to the shoes that the people would never collect again. And there was like mist, almost like spirits, floating over the shoes. And I dropped my camera -- camera down and I think that was the most moving experience -- you know, image I've ever created, just of those shoes and the -- and the stock market above them.

ANDERSON: Yes. George, I've got to say, I think your work is absolutely remarkable.

Dominik asks: "Where does the journalist end and the human being begin in a situation of war?"

GITTOES: Well, I'm more of an artist. I say that right at the beginning of the film. And I'm going to these places and creating. When I'm in Baghdad, I go to my little hotel and they say, oh, Mr. George, Mr. George, it's so wonderful you're here, everyone else is destroying our country and you're making things, you're creating things.

You know, the -- I don't have to be like a journalist. I can follow my heart. I -- I don't have to seek a story, it finds me.

ANDERSON: Janos asks: "How have the images of war changed over the years?"


GITTOES: Well, for a long time, I dealt with victims. And, you know, often you'd be like a hairdresser calming someone down. They'd been shot, they're waiting to be helped and I'd draw them. And as I drew them, they'd be my complete focus and they'd know that I cared about them and they'd tell their stories. So it was their stories, the stories of victims. I was like an advocate that showed that they cared.

But now I'm starting to see war as horror. And I realize for like people in the -- in Afghanistan, you know, little children seeing giant tanks coming up behind them, it's worse than the worst horror movie.

Goya did this. He did, you know, the victims and then he started to see the witches in the trees -- the real horror of war.

ANDERSON: Kay Sheehan has got a -- a fabulously interesting question here. She says: "Your skills as a painter are on par with the great masters." And she says: "George, it amazes me that your films, too, are so original and nothing like them has been made before."

She says: "does the film work influence the art or vice versa?"

GITTOES: That's a fantastic question. Like a moment in this film, I was filming people who had been pulled out of the Red Mosque, the -- you know, their eyes were covered, they're al Qaeda. And they knew that they would be going to somewhere like Guantanamo Bay, within hours they'd be waterboarded.

And I -- I got that on film as well as I could ever do. But then I wanted to get inside their head, what it would be -- what it would feel like to have your eyes covered being pushed along and knowing that that's what's in front of you. And that's where the Avar (ph) started. I started doing this drawing, the blindfolded leading the blindfolded. And then that became a metaphor for everything. I mean that's the age we're in now -- no one knows why we're going to war, no one knows why these things are happening and it's all like the blindfolded leading the blindfolded.

So it's -- it's working out where one -- one...

ANDERSON: All right...

GITTOES: -- one medium finishes and the other one has to start.

ANDERSON: Kira -- very quickly -- asks: "Amidst all the bad things that you've seen, how has it tested your faith" -- oh, I've asked that question.

I'm so sorry.

Let's come to the very last one then, JJK says he loves your films and asks simply this: "What's next?"

GITTOES: Well, with what's going on in Afghanistan now, I've just got to be there. This is such a crucial time. And having known those people for so long, I just want to see it end. They're tired of war.

Plus, I'm putting toward -- an exhibition together for the Houston Museum of Art about this horror -- this, this kind of afterlife, the spiritual side of it.

There's a huge spiritual, supernatural side to war that photographers can't capture and I'm doing those paintings, as well.

ANDERSON: I could talk all night. I'm sure our viewers could listen all night. Sadly, we've got to take an advertising break and get to the back part of this show.

George, an absolute pleasure and let's talk again.

George Gittoes is your Connector of the Day this evening.