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California and Six Other States Preparing Lawsuits to Block the White House; Congress Blocking Trump Through Legislation; Interview With U.S Senate Democrat, Chris Coons; Trump Declares National Emergency; Interview with CEO, Newsmax Media, Chris Ruddy. Skateboarding, A Way Of Escaping Pain and Frustration, Interview of Filmmaker, "Minding the Gap," Bing Liu. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 18, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S PRESIDENT: I didn't need to do this but I'd rather do it much faster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Legal and political test for the president's emergency declaration. Democrat Senator Chris Coons on what's to come. And one of
Trump's closest confidante's media mogul, Chris Ruddy, on the presidential mindset.
Plus, a candid look at growing up with the specter of domestic abuse. How skateboarding saved Director Bing Liu's life.
And, Matthew Broderick and Director Sean Snyder speak with our Hari Sreenivasan about their dark comedy, "To Dust."
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The emergency is declared and the challenges are mounting. California and at least six other states are preparing lawsuits to block the White House
from using an executive order to get wall funds, and Congress may yet try to block President Trump's through legislation. But as ever,
investigations into the president hang like a dark cloud over everything that happens in Washington.
This weekend, for the first time, we got intimate details of how and why the FBI started investigating whether the president obstructed justice and
was beholden to Russia. The former deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe, described in detail a debate about whether to secretly record the president
in the Oval Office. And he said this about how the inquiry started.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: And the idea is if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the FBI
to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia's malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence
investigator, you have to ask yourself, "Why would a President of the United States do that?"
So, all those same sorts of facts cause us to wonder, is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our
most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, Senator Chris Coons from Delaware sits on the Senate's powerful Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. We talked about all the
political intrigue mounting back home and what America's closest allies is thinking, when he joined me here in our London studios.
Senator Coons, welcome to the program.
CHRIS COONS, U.S. SENATE DEMOCRAT: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Good to have you in London sitting at our desk and you've just come back from Munich, the security conference, which is a really important
annual event and the Americans take it very seriously.
What was the tone? How would you say the United States government was received?
COONS: Well, we have the largest congressional delegation in the history of the Munich conference, more than 50, almost two dozen senators, dozens
of Congress members. So, I think that was positive and that was us voting with our feet to say, "We value NATO, we value the Transatlantic
Relationship and we wanted to be present to express our support.
More broadly, the tone was difficult. Angela Merkel delivered an address that was very pointed and in which I think the most important expression
she gave was that the United States is no longer a reliable ally.
AMANPOUR: That's quite scary to hear and quite difficult. I just wonder whether -- we're just going to play this sort of welcome from Vice
President Mike Pence, who was also there, and this is how he addressed the conference everybody.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That was such a pregnant pause, that was about 5 seconds of silence. Normally, you'd have your allies clapping when the 45th
president's greetings were conveyed, but it was an awkward, awkward moment.
AMANPOUR: And because they just don't think the U.S. is a reliable partner, what is the real meat and potatoes behind that?
COONS: After two years in which our president has proven himself to be sort of unpredictable, unconventional, which is what he promised when he
campaigned, I think there's now significant concern. The most recent episode that led to some of the tension at the conference was a very abrupt
announcement of the withdrawal of all American forces from Syria, a decision taken without any consultation with our allies who are currently
fighting alongside us in the conflict with ISIS or with any leaders in Congress.
So, we'll see whether the Senate asserts itself, whether the Republican majority is willing, again, more forcefully than was done just last week to
assert some independence and to insist on a more measured withdrawal and more consultation or whether they simply say, "OK. Mr. President, you have
the ability to lead us no matter what the circumstances, no matter how wise or unwise."
AMANPOUR: And they're very upset about the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. pulling out of that. I think that destabilizes and makes the whole area
much, much less safe.
But I wonder, they probably also focus quite a lot on the political goings on in the United States. I mean, people all over the world are trying to
figure out what's happening in the White House, what's happening in Washington, what's happening with the Mueller probe.
And to that end, of course, a huge amount of attention has gone to Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director, who's just written a book and did an
interview on "60 Minutes." Let's just play this soundbite and then we'll talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCABE: The president launched into several unrelated diatribes. One of those was commenting on the recent. missile launches by the government of
North Korea. And essentially, the president said, he did not believe that North Koreans have the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in
the United States and he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not. President Putin had told him that the North Koreans
don't actually have those missiles.
SCOTT PELLEY, "60 Minutes": And U.S. Intelligence was told when the president what?
MCCABE: Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses. To which
the president replied, "I don't care. I believe Putin."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Why is that not a fire alarm fire?
COONS: It is. It's stunning that we've had several demonstrations of our president not believing our own Intelligence Community, their assessment of
Russia's interference in our 2016 election. This new report that the president allegedly didn't believe our Intelligence Community's assessment
of North Korea's strategic capabilities.
I'll remind you, our Intelligence Community is led by career professionals and not partisan political folks and their job is to gather actionable
intelligence from around the world to make sure our president is able to make informed decisions on some of the most pressing security issues in
front of us.
AMANPOUR: If I'm not mistaken, it's that very threat that the president was told about that caused him to be so angry at North Korea, that caused
the whole fire and fury to begin with/
AMANPOUR: That it was being said and he did apparently believe that they had the ability to target the United States.
COONS: Well, this throw some question into exactly what he knew, what he believed, when he knew it. I didn't get to see the entire interview with
Andrew McCabe. So, I don't want to misstate this but, to me, it's just another troubling assertion by someone who was at a senior level in the
U.S. law enforcement that our president frequently took the word of foreign leaders over our own intelligence.
AMANPOUR: And not just any foreign leader, let's face it, this is the foreign leader who's accused of meddling on behalf or to the advantage of
President Trump in the U.S. Democratic process and in many of the allies, presumably as well.
But you're on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. And we've heard from the House and their relevant committees
that they're going to try to compel potentially President Trump to disclose the substance of the secret or private conversations that he had and has
had with President Putin.
Do you think that's important that we should know that?
COONS: Well, it's caused a great deal of concern that President Trump has repeatedly had conversations with President Putin on the margins of great -
- you know, large gatherings like the G20 or what he did in Helsinki, have a one on one conversation without American translators present, without a
readout of that conversation being shared with our Intelligence Community. These are just a few of a whole range of very concerning actions our
president has taken.
I'll tell you at the Munich conference, the lack of predictability about exactly where we're headed in Afghanistan, exactly where we're headed
together in Syria and whether or not we're going to finish the job and stand by the Kurds who fought alongside us, was the thing that caused the
most concern. But all of this is against the backdrop of our president's unpredictable and disconcerting steps.
AMANPOUR: What did they make of the tweet that was quite disconcerting, the president's tweet this weekend that said to this regard, that the U.S.
would release 800 or so ISIS prisoners unless European nations, from where these people came, these foreign fighters, would put them on trial and deal
COONS: You know, I don't think that was received very well. I think conducting diplomacy and security negotiations by Twitter is probably not
the best way to do it. On a number of occasions, I've urged our president to put the phone down and stop tweeting issues of this sort of sensitivity.
I do think that we have ongoing security challenges with ISIS. The ISIS caliphate is not yet completely defeated, they may lose control of all
territory shortly here but there are still thousands of foreign fighters of ISIS fighters both on the ground, in Iraq and Syria and potentially
returning to Europe from detention. We have to handle this cautiously, carefully.
We have one of the closest security relationships imaginable with the U.K. that our president would be threatening the untimely release of foreign
nationals, of foreign fighters, who might return to the U.K. and to Western Europe doesn't help advance our security.
AMANPOUR: Actually, doesn't bear thinking about this. It's quite frightening to think that all these people who've been, you know, dragnet
it up from the battlefield --
AMANPOUR: -- could suddenly be free. Let's go back to Andrew McCabe, the clip we have is where McCabe is talking about the whole crisis scandal,
about the Justice Department, either ordering or not holding, the wearing of a wire to wiretap the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELLEY: The general counsel, the FBI and the leadership team you spoke with said what about this idea?
MCCABE: I think the general counsel had a heart attack when he got up off the floor, he said, "I -- that's a bridge too far. We're not there yet."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I see you nodding.
AMANPOUR: A bridge too far.
COONS: Yes. As I said, I haven't watched this whole interview yet. I've been in Europe when this aired. But I do think there are some very
troubling allegations being raised by this interview that we will almost certainly look at on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee in the last Congress tried to conduct oversight hearings into the ongoing probe into Russian interference into
some of the more unconventional actions in the early days of the Trump administration. But it ran aground on partisan differences in terms of
which witnesses to call, who was going to be questioned.
We have a new committee chairman, Lindsey Graham. It's my hope that he will recall a broader range of the potential witnesses so that we will
actually look at the underlying issues, not just exploring this deep state conspiracy theory but actually, continuing our appropriate and bipartisan
oversight role as a committee.
AMANPOUR: Well, you mentioned Lindsey Graham and he is a supporter of the president on many issues and he has actually lambasted this as a
bureaucratic -- amounts to a bureaucratic coup against the elected leader, potentially.
COONS: I think that's an allegation worth airing thoroughly because when someone of Senator Graham's seniority and significance on the Judiciary
Committee lands such a forceful allegation and it aligns with what the president is saying about the Mueller probe and about the rule of law about
the FBI, that's worth debating in open, in public and then making sure we've got a balanced a group of witnesses testifying in front of the
I want to give Senator Graham credit for being a co-sponsor with me of legislation, two Congresses now in a row, to protect the Mueller probe. He
has consistently pushed back on the president's characterization of the Mueller probe as a witch hunt and has called for the full release of the
final Mueller report, something I've been fighting for.
But when it comes to the McCabe allegations, Chairman Graham has been pushing back very hard. His suggestion that this amounts to an
administrative attempted coup I reject it but I think we ought to have hearings into this. I think we ought to air it because frankly, sunshine
is the best disinfectant and we shouldn't be leaving the American people with a disconcerting sense that there's something improper going on here.
The FBI deserves an opportunity to defend itself, to explain the foundation and the legitimacy of this ongoing investigation.
AMANPOUR: So, the idea that Lindsey Graham is called this a potential attempted coup, you, the Democrats, have said in relation to President
Trump declaring a state of emergency and moving money from one department to another a gross abuse of power.
Why? I mean, other presidents have declared states of emergency, George W. Bush did more than a dozen times, President Obama did more than a dozen
COONS: Two things. This is not just Democrats saying this Lamar Alexander, very seasoned Republican senator from Tennessee, said it was
unwise, unwarranted and defies the spirit of the Constitution. Both Senator Johnson, who's chairman of Homeland Security, Senator Tillis, who
serves with me on Judiciary, have expressed grave concerns about what sort of precedent this sets.
Why? Because this isn't in response to an emergency that has presented itself with such force that there's no time for us to have a legislative
process. In fact, we've debated the president's request for funding a border wall three Congresses in a row.
I'll remind you, when the Republicans controlled the House and the Senate, they didn't provide anything like $6 or $7 billion to build a great big
beautiful concrete wall. We have reached a bipartisan consensus in the Congress about how much to invest in border security and what sort of
border fencing to build, and the president is trying to go around the constitutionally mandated role of Congress in spending by declaring an
I'm not saying that our border is secure, it isn't. I'm not saying we don't have concerns about border security, we do. But Republicans and
Democrats in the Congress came to a common understanding, we've passed legislation, we've presented it to the president. In order to meet a
campaign promise, he's declaring an emergency and trying to do an end around by reallocating funding we've already allocated for defense and
emergency response purposes.
AMANPOUR: Are you surprised that the Senate leadership, Senator Mitch McConnell, who said quite openly and was -- said to have told the president
that, "We're not going to support you on this declaration of emergency," now does?
COONS: Yes. Leader McConnell is himself a seasoned appropriator. He understands and has jealously guarded some of the most important
prerogatives of the Senate. I appreciate that Senator McConnell has refused to try and end the legislative filibuster even though President
Trump has repeatedly berated him about that.
I appreciate that some of my Republican colleagues continue to defend the importance of the rule of law and protecting the Mueller investigation.
But I am concerned that when push comes to shove, when we actually have to cast votes, far too few of them have been willing to stand up against their
president of their party, our president but of their party, when it comes to protecting the Senate, protecting the rule of law and protecting the
These next couple of weeks will be very consequential.
AMANPOUR: Senator Chris Coons, thank you very much indeed.
COONS: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So, when President Trump declared his national emergency on Friday, he made some time for his allies in the Conservative media, who
have been the strongest voices advocating for a border wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, could you tell as to what degree some of the outside Conservative voices helped to shape your views on this
TRUMP: I would talk about it. Sean Hannity has been a terrific, terrific supporter of what I do. And Rush Limbaugh, I think he's a great guy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any deciding policy, sir?
TRUMP: They don't decide policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, as ever, we ask the White House and other administration officials to join us here and explain their policy. When we can't get
them, it is helpful to understand the president's mindset. And few know it better than Chris Ruddy. He is CEO of the Conservative Newsmax Media and
is a member of Donald Trump's "Mar-a-Lago Club." He often dines with the president. He is joining me now from Boca Raton, Florida.
Chris Ruddy, welcome back to our program.
CHRIS RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX MEDIA: Christiane, great being on with you.
AMANPOUR: So, I said, you know, you are a member of the kitchen cabinet, so to speak. In fact, you were with him this weekend. So, I want to ask
you how he's reacting to some of the backlash. You heard what he just said in our clip about Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. But it looks like
Conservatives are kind of split on this national emergency business.
RUDDY: Well, a couple of things. First, let me say that I don't speak for the president. I've been friends with him for many years and I am full
disclosure. I support the president generally on most policies, although, we have some disagreements on a few things. And I think he's doing a
And the border security issue, and he and I chatted about this this weekend, has been a winning issue for him. You know, so many people in the
media, they live in a bubble, they don't realize border security is a very big issue with the public.
In the era of 9/11 where we have to go through metal scans and almost disrobe sometimes at airports, the idea that anybody could just walk across
the border and potential terrorists could walk across the border, I think is a threat to the United States and our national security. Certainly,
there's economic issues and impact. The president has made this a very big issue. I think the polling data shows that the public supports border
I think the Democrats, even when they're giving some of the money and they're realizing this, they know that this is a losing issue for them.
Now, whether the border wall should be concrete or steel or slats or a fence, that's an issue, I think, that could be a matter of compromise.
Ultimately, I believe the president would compromise on the issue. He's already said he wants a steel, he's very willing to have a steel barrier.
So, all of this, I think, will be discussed down the road. And I think the president, on terms of the national emergency funding, yes, some
Conservatives, even myself, I have reservations, I think he has the legal authority to do it, I do think it is a crisis situation, I do think he has
all the cards, and I mentioned this to him over the weekend, I said, you know, "That you can't -- the Democrats can't pass legislation going forward
unless you sign it," and I think there's going to be a willingness later after this continuing funding is now behind us for a compromised path here.
AMANPOUR: So, Chris Ruddy, look, clearly everybody is concerned about border security, every country has the right to have its sovereign
territory protected. The argument is over whether there really is a crisis or whether it's manufactured. And I could sit here and spew to you all the
figures that show that the majority of gangsters and drugs and criminals and illegals overstaying visas come entirely from different areas than the
border. However, we're not going to get mixed up in that right now.
I just want to ask you, you yourself say that, you know, you have a sort of a mixed reaction to the declaration of a state of emergency or national
emergency. I guess the question is, you know, it looks like the president invoked that, you know, because he couldn't get the money out of Congress,
so he said, "OK. I'm just going to do this executive thing and set a precedent." Are you not concerned that, A, it will be challenged in court
and B, it could cause, you know, as Senator Coons said, you know, a Democrat could declare a gun state of emergency or a climate state of
emergency or any such thing?
RUDDY: I would much rather this be handled, Christiane, in the congressional regular authorization process. I think there is an area of
compromise. I think the president felt there was no alternative. He's already been there two years. Congress has been unwilling to grant the
funds, even though there is a security threat, and you're saying, "Well, we shouldn't really talk about it too much, you go back over history."
I remember on the cover of Newsmax Magazine in 2008, I think it was, we did a cover story with Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, he was actually
the first guy to declare a border crisis, those were his words. If you look back, he was on CNN at the time, I remember it very well.
There have been -- we now know there's anywhere between 10 to 14 million illegals in the United States, it's not just the issue of people committing
crimes, it's the impact. The states like New Mexico, Arizona and California have seen their social service system swamp. There had been all
sorts of stresses --
AMANPOUR: Yes. But Chris --
RUDDY: -- on those economies because of those folks coming across.
AMANPOUR: Yes. I mean, Chris Ruddy, look, I'm not saying we shouldn't be concerned about it, that's not what I said. Of course, one should be
concerned about security. I'm just saying we have to be clear about the facts. And even Republican mayors like Dee Margo at El Paso and all those
people say those facts and not operative right now, it is much safer, they have got it under control, the crime rate, which was very high, plummeted
because of measures that were taken way before a wall went up.
But can I ask you -- and, of course, you are right though, it is an election issue and the president has made it a successful one, those are
two different things.
RUDDY: But I think you have to admit, Christiane, the president has been in office two years and he's reduced the number of illegal bordings,
there's been various estimates by about 50 percent of legal crossings because of executive action that he's taking, of laws already on the books.
He is -- he has been solving the very crisis that he inherited. He feels, I think, frustrated that that -- that we've just not stopping this problem.
Every country -- you know, what country in the world would not have secured borders and somehow, it's accepted that the United States should have like
a poorest border and anybody can walk across.
AMANPOUR: No, no. We get that.
RUDDY: I think he's saying --
RUDDY: -- "Wait a minute, Washington. Why is this acceptable?" And, you know, it's not -- the people in Hollywood, New York, in the Beltway, they
don't like him taking this stand. But I go out and you talk to people in New Hampshire, in Illinois or different places around the country, and I
think he enjoys pretty broad support --
AMANPOUR: So, tell me how he's feeling about it?
RUDDY: -- really need to have --
AMANPOUR: I mean, he was playing golf. I don't know whether you played golf with him over the weekend. How is he feeling about that right now and
about what Andrew McCabe, for instance, has been saying on 60 Minutes and - - how is -- what's his -- as I've said, we're going to ask you about --
RUDDY: Well, I don't want to be the --
AMANPOUR: -- his mindset.
RUDDY: -- voice -- my job is not here to share the mindset of the president. He does a very good job doing it on Twitter and with his own
I think the general feeling I can share with you, which is that he is very confident, I think he's very confident that he's going to win on this
border issue, that it's a good issue for him in the public and it's good for America. I got the sense that he feels the media is still out to get
him, so to speak. He's particularly not happy with the things he keeps seeing in various programs.
And the whole issue of the McCabe thing, we didn't really get into that much.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask a specifically --
RUDDY: -- president feels that there has been --
AMANPOUR: Yes. Sorry, sorry. I hate to interrupt you.
AMANPOUR: Time is just running down a little bit. But I want to ask you specifically because he is going to North Korea and I think he feels that
he has a rapport going and that he could, you know, achieve something to really ratchet down the pressures there. But what do you make of McCabe
saying that the president didn't believe his own intelligence about North Korea's capabilities but rather believed Putin instead?
RUDDY: Well, I mean, this is interesting you raise the issue of intelligence. You know, the intelligence chiefs including the director of
National Intelligence, Dan Coats, just went before an open session of Congress, and they openly said that they believe the president's policies
and efforts in North Korea are going to fail based on the intelligence.
I think you have a classic example here where Director Coats is trying to make policy and not inform policy. The purpose of intelligence is to give
the president the facts, let him decide and make the decisions, not to publicly declare that his policies are going to fail a week before he goes
over to North Korea on this very important summit.
And, Christiane, I'm hearing from sources around the White House, there's just general disappointment of the president with Director Coats. There's
a feeling that maybe there needs to be a change of leadership in in that position coming up.
AMANPOUR: So, did you --
RUDDY: And I think --
AMANPOUR: -- talk to him about it? Do you think he'll dismiss Director Coats?
RUDDY: Well, I don't know what his plan is. He doesn't tell me who he's going to dismiss or not. I have talked to various people, not him, that
are very close in the White House with the security positions the president is taking. And I think, generally, there's a deep concern that on the eve
of the North Korea to have your director of National Intelligence in open hearings undercutting your position was very bad form.
AMANPOUR: Just to -- obviously, the president's going to Hanoi and not to North Korea but he's going to meet the North Korean leader there in
Vietnam. But do you think it's weird that on the verge of going there we understand that he trusts Putin more than his own intelligence. I know
you've described the Intelligence, but nonetheless, he trusts Putin more than he does American, you know, patriots who work for the American
RUDDY: Well, I think that's a statement based on what McCabe said in a private conversation. I think the president, from what I can see and my
dealings with him, he has a lot of confidence, generally, in the agencies that work for him.
He's been very tough on Putin. He's armed the Ukrainians. He's enforced the sanctions. He's calling for the end of the North Stream gas pipeline,
which would only help Russia and give them leverage over Europe. He's the only guy standing up against that pipeline in Europe.
You know, so you have to ask yourself if he's so pro Putin, why is -- why are all of his actions, Christiane, against Putin and very strongly
against. He's taking on Putin in Venezuela. I don't think Putin likes the fact that the president is going after Iran with sanctions, that's an ally
So, all over the world, the president, while he might be extending an olive branch to Putin, which I think is perfectly fine, Obama did it, George W.
Bush, I think he's doing the very smart thing of building up his leverage, his assets and his strengths and he's getting our allies to start doing the
same, and I think it's to be commended.
AMANPOUR: All right. Chris Ruddy, thank you so much for joining us. CEO of Newsmax Media. Thank you very much indeed.
Now, President Trump often professes to be the voice of the forgotten men and women of America, people who live in places that were once full of
promise but are now sort of despair, places that Rockford, Illinois, which is an industrial city on the northern edge of the Rust Belt. And that's
where we find an extraordinary story.
Bing Liu began by filming a documentary about his friends doing what they love most, which is skateboarding. But it soon turned into an essay on
something much deeper and much more powerful, skateboarding was their way of escaping their pain and frustration. Here's a clip from the trailer
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're a kid, you just do, you just act. And then somewhere along the time, everyone loses that. I knew you had some huge
weight on you. Skateboarding meant more to you. It was kind of a life or death thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember hearing that screaming coming from your room and it was like really, really unnerving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, the film is "Minding the Gap," and the director, Bing Liu, joins me now from New York.
Welcome to the program.
BING LIU, DIRECTOR, "MINDING THE GAP": Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: It really is an extraordinary film. It's about 90 minutes of an incredible story that you tell. What made you start doing that and how
many years ago did you start?
LIU: So, the film covers 12 years because that's how much footage I was able to get. But I started, in earnest, in 2012.
So you know five or six years ago before it premiered at Sundance. And you know I was drawn to this idea of young people being able to explore things
that typically we don't get to see them explore, especially young men.
And doing it on screen. So what I started doing was actually going around the country in the United States and I started following skateboarders from
all over. And then a year in, I went back to Rockford, Illinois where I grew up and that's where I met one of the people who I'd end up following
And at that point I started working with the production company in Chicago, where I was living, called Kartemquin Films and they're best known for a
film called "Hoop Dreams."
And that's when I realized oh, well documentaries can be like fiction films in the sense that, you know, we can follow characters and out of these
characters' lives then we can get at these same issues and themes without being as on the nose about it. So that's when I started committing to a
long form project like this.
AMANPOUR: So -- so being you're one of the characters, although you're mostly the -- the -- the interrogator or the questioner, if you like. Then
there's Zack and then there's Kiere as well.
I'm going to play this flip, which really focuses on -- on Kiere for a while and -- and it's about the moment where you sort of reveal the
domestic abuse and violence that he's been through that turns out links all of you in this film. Let's just take a look.
LIU: How did you get disciplined?
KIERE JOHNSON, "MINDING THE GAP": I mean well, they call it child abuse now but it's -- that shit makes you angry like, oh god. It like -- it like
boils my blood, dude. Like ugh (ph).
LIU: How bad did it get? Like did you ever cry?
JOHNSON: Of course. Of course. Like, I mean wouldn't you?
LIU: I did cry.
JOHNSON: I feel like everybody cries.
AMANPOUR: And so Kiere is telling this story. And then suddenly you're telling him your story, I did cry. Just explain to me to as the director,
as the story teller, what it was like to discover that you had this commonality and what was your story of abuse?
LIU: Sure. So like I said, I sort of spent a year going and doing this ensemble piece and I discovered a lot of stories of abuse. Sometimes with
people I was sitting down with for the first time.
And in this case with Kiere, you know he's eight years younger than me so I didn't really know him growing up that well. So the first time we really
sat down was what you saw in the moment that you just played.
And it was -- it was -- you know it's -- I think every time I hear it doesn't get easier to hear. You know it brings me back to this time when I
felt like I was walking on eggshells when I was growing up and you know the way that Kiere sort of had this shameful feeling around talking about it
reminded me of myself when I was his -- his age.
So there was automatically that tension there that I felt with him but I also was excited by the possibility of being able to process it with him,
which he was really willing to do. I mean that conversation that we had lasted for a couple hours on camera and then we talked a lot longer off
AMANPOUR: And -- and your own story, which is sort of fleshed out when you put your mother in front of your camera and you sit her down and you ask
her really painful questions about why she allowed your stepfathers and whoever was in her life after your father died to -- to beat you up.
And -- and it was really painful to watch. I wonder how you felt asking your mother those questions and seeing her visible pain and whether you got
any resolution and whether she did.
LIU: I think that -- that -- you know the conversation just sort of had a gravitational pull. I mean I didn't go into the conversation thinking that
I was going to confront her like that and I knew we were going to talk about the past.
But you know once she did start talking about the past and it's a two way street. I think she was really vulnerable and was really forthright about
some of the violent incidents that happened in the household.
But once that started happening, I think just the eight year old, the nine year old, the 10 year old version of myself inside of me just started
wanting answers in a way that I didn't expect when I first entered that -- that conversation. I think I got brought back to this place that I often
try to just compartmentalize and I got back to this place wherein, you know, I was a little boy just wanting my mom's protection and she wasn't
giving it to me. And so, I think that's what made that conversation really difficult.
AMANPOUR: Did you feel you got closure?
LIU: I don't think I'm ever going to have closure in the sense that, you know, I can leave this part of my life behind me. I think just because I
experienced so much trauma for years and years as a child I think it's just a part of me and I have to learn how every day to, you know, be a better
person and make decisions that, you know, allow me to not continue that same cycle that I witnessed.
AMANPOUR: And was skateboarding sort of a therapy? Obviously a sport, it was something fun to do. Was the skateboarding and the filming of it and
the amazing acrobatics you and your two friend performed, what was that all about? How did that figure?
LIU: Well, I mean, in hindsight it's - I feel like I have a lot of theoretical frameworks around it, but at the time, I mean, it really did
feel like just regaining a sense of control, a control over our bodies, control over, you know, the way they've experience pain. I think a lot of
time when young people experience pain that they don't understand or it seems unfair or there seems to be a lack of causality to why that pain is
happening, you do something like skateboarding and all of a sudden you start to get, you know, a sense of control over your body and pain and, by
extension, you life for just, you know, a split second while you're out doing it.
AMANPOUR: Being the third in the trio there is Zack and he has a girlfriend, Nina, and then they have a kid - a little baby called Elliot,
and you again reveal that actually Zack has been beating Nina up on occasion. What was it like to suddenly realize that you're telling the
audience this, that you're asking Nina about it and, to an extent, Zack? How did you deal with putting that on film and not making it worse between
LIU: Well, one of the things that I did was I took a 40-hour domestic violence advocacy course and, you know, I learned from organizations how to
safely work with people in situations like that so that, you know, you're looking out for the safety and livelihood of all involved, and I think a
lot of times people's gut reaction is just to go to the authorities or intervene, but I think sometimes that can make it worse, especially if the
couple really still wants to try to make it work with their relationship, which was what was happening during the film. So what I had to do is just
always be in guard and be ready to intervene, but at the same time know that, you know, to call the authorities or to intervene might make the
situation worse. In terms of making the film, you know, I think I had to just - that's why I put myself in the film actually. I didn't intend to go
in and put my own story into it, but I think I just helped the film just get more of a perspective, especially for the audience in terms of why is
the filmmaker going deeper into this very private matter, into this very, you know, intimate, touchy material.
AMANPOUR: Bing Liu, it is a remarkable film. Congratulations and thank you for being with us this evening. And we move now from that incredible
story of friendship and growth to an unlikely partnership in the new film To Dust. Haunted by his wife's death, a Hasidic Jew wonders what happens
to our bodies after we die. So he enlists the help of a biology professor played by the actor Matthew Broderick. Our Hari Sreenivasan dives into
that journey with Broderick, who's star of cult hits like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the Producers, and also with the film's director, Shawn Snyder.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNNI CORRESPONDENT: Matthew Broderick, Shawn Snyder, thank you both. Shawn, what's this movie about?
SHAWN SNYDER, TO DUST DIRECTOR: To Dust is about a Hasidic character whose wife passes away and he struggles to find comfort in the very rigid
mourning rituals and he's striving for spiritual solace, but his grief is spilling outside the boundaries and it's manifesting itself as these
nightmares about his wife's decomposing corpse and this gnawing need to understand what's happening to her body. That obsession with death and
that inquiry into what might actually be science is very taboo in his community, so he has to tiptoe outside of his community. And that search
lands him at a community college where he meets Albert played by Matthew Broderick, a bit of a bewildered community college biology professor, and
the two embark on this bizarre, homespun world of forensic research and essentially try to find peace and grieve in a way that feels holy (ph)
SREENIVASAN: Now, you're sitting with him in a cafe and he's describing this to you. And what leaps out? Like I wan to play a biology teacher
that is going to look at what?
MATTHEW BRODERICK, TO DUST ACTOR: Dead bodies I guess. It's an unusual story, but it's very human. The dialogue was really funny and good I
thought, and the story was fascinating and I wanted to work with Geza and then I met with Shawn and I just liked the script from the time I read it.
SREENIVASAN: There is a buddy comedy that's evolving. And I think as the audience starts to figure this out, you know, like, "Wait a minute.
There's this other storyline happening here."
SREENIVASAN: There's - you guys have a reference to Hardy Boys. It is a bit like that you (inaudible) Hardy Boys.
BRODERICK: Yes. Well, we - yes, we kind of - we're solving a mystery; that's true, you know.
SYNDER: There's moments where I've called it a Hasidic scientific Borscht Belt B-horror buddy dramady about grief.
BRODERICK: One of, you know, of that -
SREENIVASAN: I mean, is there an Oscar category for that, because -
SYNDER: They - they put it out, but then they canceled it because of backlash.
SREENIVASAN: Right. Right, right.
BRODERICK: They had it in the silent-era, but they got rid of it when sound came in (ph), consolidated.
SREENIVASAN: Let's take a look at a clip, a little bit of that sort of buddy comedy here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERT: Listen, I'm a professor, and you are a rabbi. And I think that you have seriously crossed the stated boundaries of the professor-rabbi
SHMUEL: I'm not the rabbi.
ABLERT: I don't - SHMUEL: (Foreign Language).
ALBERT: I don't know what that is.
SHMUEL: Decanter (ph).
ALBERT: I don't care.
SHMUEL: I'm a Jew, Albert.
ALBERT: Oh, no (expletive).
SHMUEL: And I just can't. I can't.
SHMUEL: I stole the pig. It's only fair if you kill it.
ALBERT: What? What?
SHMUEL: We have to kill the pig.
ALBERT: I am not hearing this. No, no, no. Here's what going to happen. You and me, we're going to - we're going to pick up this pig, and we're
going to carry it into your Jew wagon, and you are going to take it home. And then we're never going to talk about this or about anything ever again.
OK? Killing a pig is not going to bring back your wife, Shmuel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: It is just a strange relationship that develops, because they're both kind of in search for something. I mean, it's much more
explicit what the individual whose wife is deceased is looking for But there's a curiosity that's been sparked in this teacher's -
SREENIVASAN: - life.
BRODERICK: You know, he says he needs a scientist because, I guess, his faith is reaching some limits, or he wants to know science, about what's
happening. And he doesn't, I guess, realize that I'm barely I'm a - I just teach, you know.
But I guess I was, you can infer, you know, I probably originally did want to do more science than just teaching people. And so, it's an opportunity
for Albert, the man I play, to kind of get in the field and solve a mystery.
SREENIVASAN: There's a lot of material in here that I think, when the first time - if somebody's introduced to it, they would find very gory or
icky or like, "Oh, my god. Am I really watching this happen?" I think there's almost a certain universal absurdity to it all, and maybe you're
pointing that out. How do we deal with this topic? We don't really talk about, as you mentioned.
SYNDER: Yes. Well, I think that the human condition is absurd, that we love, only to lose, and that we live, only to die. And I think that as a
culture - as a society as our respective cultures therein, we don't have very healthy relationships with - with death. The funeral industry, it
does so much, and our - our faith do so much to poeticize, or for stall (ph) or embalm or say this casket is going to preserve this body forever.
And it's all about shying away from the harsh existential reality and biological reality of what happened to our bodies. And I'm incredibly
squeamish, and I think you're incredibly squeamish too. And this movie comes from my own grief; I lost my mom 10 years ago. I had these thoughts,
I believe as we all have.
And I think that's the universal that we all share these thoughts and we all think we're weird or strange or morbid or macabre, that we shouldn't be
thinking about these things, especially in a time of heightened grief.
SYNDER: And then we feel embarrassed and ashamed. And if you can air these thoughts, and if you can air them by - by casting them through -
through some lens of humor as well, it's the sugar that helps swallow the medicine, that not only do we - should one have permission to look at these
things without feeling ostracized, but that if one were to - to engage it, that there's actually a spiral beauty to the way the a body returns to the
SREENIVASAN: Have you thought much about what happens after? I mean, you've got kids that are old enough; you must've had some conversations
with them about -
BRODERICK: You mean like what to do with me? No, unlike Shawn, I - like most people, I kind of avoid it, I guess. I had been working in New
Mexico, and there's an ad on the freeway that says "Death is coming, plan for us. Dial 1-800," you know, for a funeral parlor. (Inaudible).
SYNDER: It could be a funeral ad or it could be a church.
BRODERICK: You're right, you know. I know what it is, but it says - it says death is coming. So you know, I don't why we're talking about this,
but in - but like, you know, an Irish wake, you spend some time with the actual body.
BRODERICK: You know. And a lot of religions and cultures have that, because it's - it's the way you kind know that it's what's happened.
So if somebody is just - a body is just whisked away as if it just floated off -
SREENIVASAN: Or there's almost a sterilization, right -
SREENIVASAN: - like it's embalmed -
SREENIVASAN: - perfectly dressed -
SREENIVASAN: - in this hermetically sealed thing -
BRODERICK: I know, which is scary, too.
SREENIVASAN: - and it's just a very strange -
BRDOERICK: I know, and I think the family and loved ones, they miss an important step in a way. Painful as it might be, there is probably
something good about really sort of facing what's happened.
SREENIVASAN: I know in the Hindu tradition there's a very physical connection, and in this movie, the Jewish tradition, this tradition bathing
that body and just touching that person. And your costar actually is what part of a team people that have done this or do this.
SNYDER: So Geza Rohrig for at least 15 years has been and continues to be a member of the Chevra kadisha, which I believe is holy brotherhood, but
it's a Jewish burial society. And there's men who bathe and ritually prepare male bodies and a group of females who prepare female bodies, and
they do this for their community. And Geza describes it as not morbid but a spiritually uplifting act so much so that even while he's become an actor
he continues to do this and he -
SNYDER: - likens it to prayer.
SREENIVASAN: Did that come up while you guys are adjacent trailers to one another?
BRODERICK: He doesn't love to, you know, just blab on about it, but it's clearly a serious matter.
SNYDER: You would assume with Geza that this would come up the first time that we spoke about this film and this specific topic -
BRODERICK: He didn't mention it though (ph) -
SNYDER: - and I had to have a friend point me to a New Yorker article -
BRODERICK: I read it in the paper. Me, too. I was like -
SNYDER: - about it.
BRODERICK: - what the? He knows everything about this subject -
SNYDER: Months after we -
BRODERICK: - and acting like he's learning. Yes.
SREENIVASAN: So did this create an opportunity for you to not avoid this topic with your - in your life?
BRODERICK: It made me think about it, but, you know, as much as we're talking about it, the movie is really a human story about these - this guy
trying to get over his nightmares.
SNYDER: And at the same time, we try not to shy away from it. What we -
BRODERICK: No, we don't shy away from it, but it's not - it's not - I can't think of the word.
BRODERICK: Yes, kinky or something. It's not like cool dead body stuff, you know?
SREENIVASAN: There's even a scene outside of the body farm that's - you know, it's just kind of is that comic relief almost where -
SREENIVASAN: - you're talking to the security guard. You're trying to explain there's nothing weird going on here.
SREENIVASAN: It's not what you think.
BRODERICK: Yes, it's a lovely little scene, yes. She's going to arrest us for looking - peeking over the fence. They have these - it's a real thing,
a body farm where they put a body in a car or in a lake and so they can see how long it takes for what to happen so that the police can figure out -
it's a cheerful - cheerful idea.
SNYDER: This amazing field of -
BRODERICK: I know. (inaudible)
SNYDER: - science for anthropology.
BRODERICK: But they - they naturally don't let people come gawk at it, you know, because they're very respectful -
BRODERICK: - because they are, you know, human beings. They don't like to make light of that. So they have - they guard it carefully, and the guard
who catches us, though, finds out the pain that Geza is in and she's lost her - I forgot.
SNYDER: Her son, her husband.
BRODERICK: Her son, that's right. Yes.
SNYDER: She's a Washington (ph) -
BRODERICK: To cancer, yes. So she immediately identifies with him and let's us go basically.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well how did she die?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His wife?
BRODERICK: Oh, she died of cancer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (CENSOR) cancer.
BRODERICK: Yes. Yes, it's a terrible, terrible disease.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Took my momma, my husband, and my youngest Duvell (ph).
BRODERICK: Oh, that's (CENSOR). That's horrible.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (CENSOR) cancer.
BRODERICK: (CENSOR) cancer. So that's what this is. He's in bad shape and I was trying to help him out - trying to help a friend out. We've been
traveling a very, very long way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I can't let you into the grounds.
BRODERICK: No, no. Absolutely, that would be a mistake.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But if you gentlemen can hightail it the (CENSOR) out of here, I think I can turn a blind eye.
BRODERICK: Thank you. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But what's your friend's name?
BRODERICK: Shmuel - Shmuel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus loves you, Shmuel Shmuel.
SREENIVASAN: Talking about your body of work, it's also cross generational, right, where people are going to - shall we play a game is
what comes to mind first?
SREENIVASAN: Right, when aging myself -
BRODERICK: Yes, and me.
SREENIVASAN: And you, and Ferris Bueller obviously, but you go through glory, you go to the producers.
SREENIVASAN: You have these sort of different cross cuts.
SREENIVASAN: What do you look for now when you get a script?
BRODERICK: You know, I've never known really what to look for except something that I like reading. You know, it starts with that. I mean,
hopefully a little bit it stretches me in some way. I like to try to think I'm doing something not totally comfortable.
Then you meet Shawn or whoever is -- wrote it or is directing it and then you see how you connect to each other and .
SREENIVASAN: Because these are going to be the people that you're going to be around for weeks and weeks at a time.
BRODERICK: Yes. Yes. Because .
SREENIVASAN: You're opting into this.
BRODERICK: Right. And I just kind of go with my gut. I liked Shawn when I met him and I liked the script when I read it. And I thought it was
interesting story. I wanted to work with Geza (inaudible), which was the magnificent (ph). And so I thought it would be a good thing to do.
SREENIVASAN: What are you going to remember? Is there a scene -- how do you have memories of all things that you've worked overtime? Right. Is
there a specific moment or a shoot day or a person or a line; what do you think is going to be one of those memories from this film for you?
BRODERICK: I remember of shooting all night on a little lake in Staunton Island with a row boat for some reason. That was a very kind of beautiful
yet, uncomfortable night.
SREENIVASAN: The boat, was it going to be facing forwards or backwards, were you going to be rowing the right way. How are you (inaudible) .
BRODERICK: Yes. They had rehearsed it to be rowing the boat backwards and I got there and I was like Shawn, like you can't row with the flat part
going -- I know I'm not a big yachts man but I know from -- from Central Park that you don't row that way.
SNYDER: But there were decisions made .
The aesthetics of the direction of the boat and the positions and I'm sitting -- I'm sitting here, you know, we're one and a half weeks into
production saying who's respect (ph) do I lose here. Like what decision do I have to make or call, you know, and it related to the intensity of the
performances and everybody had a different -- different need but I think we created a beautiful scene.
BRODERICK: We were inside a grave pit, Geza and I at a graveyard.
SNYDER: At Jewish cemetery .
BRODERICK: Just on the edge. There was a guy there .
SNYDER: Relocations all on Staunton Island. There was a guy there protecting this .
BRODERICK: He was there to make sure we didn't do anything, you know, non kosher or whatever word one should use. And -- but there we were in a ..
SREENIVASAN: You were grave digging for this .
BRODERICK: Grave digging. As close to grave digging as I've ever been and that was an odd -- odd -- and it was a fake rain pouring us.
SNYDER: Fake rain pouring on you.
BRODERICK: So it was in a Frankenstein movie and an Independent film at the same time.
SNYDER: And -- and the -- the insane thing about it is that we -- you know again, this film was made on .
SREENIVASAN: Yes, which -- which insane thing about this?
SNYDER: But the -- but the film was that we were doing these things. They tell you, you know, a film at this budget level should be shot in a house
with two actors and we were under -- under funded and under staffed and under scheduled and there was no day -- you know I think about the luxury
of people talking about -- so we were five days into that scene.
And I'm more like we were like we were five scenes into that day, you know when we were shooting. And there was no day where there wasn't at minimum
one key set piece. And so much of it was, you know, you had 80 percent of the dialogue and you're speaking these long .
SNYDER: Yes, these long .
BRODERICK: Blah, blah, blah, blah.
SREENIVASAN: Are you thinking at that point first time rookie director?
BRODERICK: No, I never thought that except sometimes. The only thing was sometimes the time crush is hard but I've done that before. And it also
brings an energy to the stuff in a way that's hard to explain that's sometimes good.
I mean you don't have time to get every piece of coverage that you might want. You have to be a little more flexible and improvisational in a way.
And -- and that's not a bad thing.
SNYDER: This old (ph) idea about creativity thrives when it's given limits.
SNYDER: And it was very humbling. But that's the beauty about -- about -- I mean all art forms. But film in particular goes through so many phases
and has so many practical limitations.
SNYDER: So it's made, you know, in -- in the fire and with gut instinct and love and miracles and -- and -- and certainly happy accidents.
BRODERICK: Good accidents. Yes, absolutely. That's what even Sidney Lumet always said that was -- you know that's why he didn't like too much,
you know, digital or if you have too much control over the -- the frame, nothing great will happen.
If you're not on the location he used to say where a siren or an ambulance goes by and then actors hear it that might be a really good accident that
won't happen if you're -- if everything's in a room with a green screen and perfect.
SREENIVASAN: All right. Shawn Snyder, Matthew Broderick; thank you both.
BRODERICK: Great. Nice to talk to you.
SNYDER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Dark comedy indeed. And that is it four program tonight. Remember you can always watch us and see our podcast, see us online at
amanpour.com and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.