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The Amanpour Hour
Face to Face: Can Biden & Xi Avert A New War? Interview With Ambassador Rahm Emanuel; Middle East Distraction Is The "Perfect Situation" For Putin; Interview With Former Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite; Amanpour Archive: Interview With The "Butcher Of Bosnia"; "American Symphony". Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired November 18, 2023 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST: Reihan, best shot?
REIHAN SALAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So when you're looking at the Democratic Party, who is the number two in the party after President Biden? Is it Gavin Newsom? Is it Kamala Harris? Is it Gretchen Whitmer?
The real answer is JB Pritzker, the governor of Illinois. Not because of his magnetism, not because of his charisma but because he is gearing up to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to re-elect President Biden. And he's also gearing up for his own presidential campaign come 2028, and possibly if something happens to the president, in 2024.
WALLACE: You think of all the people out there, and I think that governors are the ones, you would put him at the head of the line as a possible Plan B for 2024, ahead of Newsom and Whitmer?
SALAM: Nobody else has done more for public sector organized labor, the giveaways are incredible. They're --
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Welcome to THE AMANPOUR HOUR. In the next 60 minutes, we will take you around the world to ask the tough questions and tackle the big problems and let history be our guide.
Here is where we're headed this week.
AMANPOUR: Biden and Xi re-established military ties and some cooperation despite being on opposite sides of Israel and Ukraine.
RAHM EMANUEL, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN: Do I think world peace is going to break out and you're also going to start learning the words to kumbaya? No. But I think it this is the right step and a firm step in the right direction.
AMANPOUR: White House insider and key diplomat Rahm Emanuel joins the show.
Then to the war in Ukraine. While the world has taken its eye off that ball, Putin's nervous neighbors are taking matters into their own hands.
Madam President, are you calling for Lithuanian, American, British, French, German boots on the ground?
Also ahead, a look back into my archive, 28 years after the U.N. charged "The Butcher of Bosnia" Ratko Mladic with genocide.
And finally -- humor, heartache and healing.
JON BATISTE, MUSICIAN: I won the biggest prize in music, come home. She's back in the hospital. This is what we're dealing with.
AMANPOUR: Multi-Grammy winning musician Jon Batiste and director Matthew Heineman on their new film "American Symphony".
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
This week, the U.S. came face to face with its greatest global competitor, China. President Joe Biden met Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first proper sit-down of his presidency.
And Xi's visit to the Asia-Pacific summit in San Francisco was his first visit to the United States since 2017.
And it comes after six weeks of bloodshed in Israel and Gaza that's consumed most of the oxygen. Expectations were low, but perhaps the meeting itself was the main success.
And there was a big break-through, military to military communications between the two nations will resume. And both leaders talked up the vital need to keep talking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I value our conversation, because I think it is paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader to leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunication.
We have to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict. And we also have to manage it responsibly.
XI JINPING, CHINESE PRESIDENT: The China-U.S. relationship has never been smooth sailing over the past 50 years or more and it always faces problems one time or another. Yet it has kept moving forward amid twists and turns.
For two large countries like China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: As U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel is one of Biden's sharpest pair of eyes in Asia. And he joined me from the summit to talk about supporting U.S. allies who are concerned about the Chinese giant on their doorstep as well as how Biden is navigating the war in the Middle East, all of this happening in the midst of a presidential election year.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, welcome to the program.
EMANUEL: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So tell us, I mean has world peace broken out? Was the summit and the meeting that significant? Are we less or more worried about a war with Taiwan? Tell us what happens.
EMANUEL: I think the way to look at this, as you know, in foreign policy and diplomacy where deterrence ends and provocation begins, nobody really knows.
So is it better to have a conversation, a dialogue, that meets eye to eye, understand where you agree, and also understand where you don't agree, and what your firm kind of bottom lines are? That's a better alternative.
And yes, that was a step forward in the right way. Especially in contrast to what you see with Russia's invasion in Ukraine. The conflict in Gaza.
Here having dialogue, here having diplomacy, that stands in perfect contrast. Do I think world peace is going to break out and that you're also going to start learning the words to kumbaya? No.
Do I think China is going to stop trying to intimidate the Philippines, an ally of ours? No. We're going to stand by our allies and be very firm that they have right as defined by the international court to their EZ (ph) off the Philippine coast. So as an example.
EMANUEL: So do I think that all of a sudden, everybody is going to get along, and everything is going to return to some kind of snapback to 2014 or 2015? I don't. But I think this is the right step, and a firm step in the right direction. And I think that's how both leaders and both countries see it.
AMANPOUR: So importantly, the military-to-military communications were cut a while ago. Have they been restored? And how important is that?
EMANUEL: Well, I think, look, given what is going on in the region, and given what's happened, just take a look at what China has done to India, to the Philippines, in Taiwan, in the Senkaku Islands off of Japan, firing five missiles there. It is better to have a conversation knowing who you're going to call when a flashpoint occurs than not. I do want to take a step back, and I think it is kind of important on
one other sector (ph) from the military-to-military, because I think it tells a really important story.
One is right after the meeting, President Xi had a dinner with a number of American CEOs who gave him a standing ovation. President Biden immediately afterwards had a reception with people here in the San Francisco area, but also with a number of world leaders from the region from the APEC conference. Japan, the prime minister was there, the president of Singapore was there, as was from the Philippines, as was from Indonesia, as examples.
I think it is a telling sign, because one of the big strengths for America is our diplomacy. We have allies. We have friends. The people, the countries, the leaders in that region want America to stay a permanent Pacific presence and power, and they welcomed and had a reception with the President of the United States.
That was not present because President Xi is desperate for American investments in that area because of what is happening in China. And I think what followed the meeting was an important story that underscored where each other's countries' strengths are, and where the vulnerabilities are.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you, because you have been in the room where it happened, so to speak --
EMANUEL: You can try.
AMANPOUR: -- under the Obama administration, when you had to deal with, let's call it a recalcitrant, noncooperative Benjamin Netanyahu.
Now, President Biden has embraced him. He's Israel's very good friend. Israel is being obviously, you know, supported in self-defense, et cetera.
But things are getting tricky. The level of death in Gaza is causing huge discombobulation on the streets of the United States, here in Europe, not to mention in the Arab world.
And I'm wondering what you think the U.S. needs to do to both support Israel and to cut down on this, what's becoming an intolerable death toll in Gaza.
EMANUEL: Yes. Well, as you know, Christiane, as a representative of the United States, I support policy of the president. I have some, obviously my own feelings about certain things. One is I would like to remind everybody, those calling for a ceasefire, I was for the ceasefire, there was a ceasefire on October 6th. It got violated. That all got evaporated, literally.
Now, that said, I think the president's doing exactly the right thing which is the idea of self-defense for the state of Israel. And supporting Israel in its own self-defense.
But part of that self-defense, and part of our whole definition of going all the way back to when I worked with President Clinton, on the two-state solution of the Oslo Accords, the Wide Plantation Agreement, the efforts at Camp David in the final days of his presidency, that the two-state solution were a Palestinian state exists side by side with Israel is in Israel's self-interest.
That is exactly where President Biden is. That is exactly as he said the other day, pushing for a two-state solution, because it has always been in Israel's self-interest, which is why a lot a part of the national security of the state of Israel has advocated for exactly that type of policy.
To be able to have a firm, clear, credible deterrence, pursue its interests as it relates to fighting terrorism, and the security that is necessary, but do not underestimate that a two-state political solution is also part of their own deterrence and their own security.
That has been advocated by many Israeli prime ministers, and the security establishment of the state of Israel. And President Biden has been absolutely clear, as recently as the other day at the press conference, in -- here in San Francisco, about the importance of a two-state solution as the final resolution, and not only for the dignity of the Palestinian people, which is valuable, but for the security of the state of Israel and its own future of its own people.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Emanuel, you know that Benjamin Netanyahu has never wanted to implement that. I mean the endless, endless, real-life examples, you've had to deal with it. The Clinton administration has had to deal with it. Now the Biden administration.
AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Netanyahu is going over the head of the president, talking directly to the American media, talking about potential -- this is my word -- occupation, but whatever it is, a military encirclement, a security encirclement of Gaza. The president doesn't want that. America doesn't want that.
He's not saying a thing about the day after in his reaching out to, I guess American public opinion. Is that troubling?
EMANUEL: Don't underestimate, Christiane on this one other point, which is -- and I think it has been covered by CNN and by yourself many times. President Biden is also quite popular with the Israeli people. Using and establishing the friendship that the president was very clear on, on the day, on October 8th forward, has given him a tremendous amount of political credibility with the Israeli people when it comes to making some hard decisions.
And I don't want to speak for the Israeli government. My guess is they are very aware how popular the president is, because he stood by Israel in its hour of need.
AMANPOUR: Stand by, Ambassador. When we return, Politico says they know how Biden can win -- by calling back Rahm Emanuel. We'll discuss that after the break.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
We are still with Ambassador Emanuel who is in California, around the APEC Summit.
So what does President Biden have to do, apart from the foreign policy that we've been talking about, to convince the American people that he is the best man, the best person, on the economy for instance, on keeping America safe, on building and supporting democracy around the world.
Because the polls are very worrying, suggesting that more Americans think Trump is better on the economy and on national security?
EMANUEL: Well, Christiane, as you probably know, and I know you know this, as a diplomat, you're apolitical. Now that's very hard for me, since it's in my bone, and I have a big bubble above my head with a lot of thoughts.
Let me just say this, I think Joe Biden has, when I was chief of staff, our offices were right next to each other, we go all the way back to 1994. He is infamous for his statement that don't judge me against the almighty, judge me against the alternative.
And I think at the end of the day, elections are about a choice, and there's going to be a clear stark choice. One that is about the future, and one that is about the past. That is all I can say without going over the violation of what an ambassador can say about politics.
AMANPOUR: So then let me ask you, as an ambassador and a diplomat, what do you think America's allies and its adversaries --
EMANUEL: Say that again -- doesn't that just roll off -- doesn't that just roll off the tongue? Ambassador Rahm Emanuel?
AMANPOUR: There you go.
What are America's friends and adversaries going to think about a Trump, another Trump presidency? You know, people are already really worried in very important parts of the world where everything is at stake. Let's just say Ukraine fighting off Russia.
EMANUEL: Let me just say this from the region. And again I can't go past the water's edge on politics. But I can say firsthand, having intimately been involved in the Camp David principles, where the president brought the prime minister of Japan and the president (INAUDIBLE). They sat there and showed that diplomacy and dialogue was a better alternative to what President Putin is doing with the war in Ukraine. What Hamas has done with terrorism.
That in a place there's conflict, war, terrorism -- has no place where you can have an alternative dialogue and diplomacy. That was achieved because of President Biden's credibility with the two leaders, the credibility of the United States, and the leadership of the United States with diplomacy and dialogue work.
And that stood in direct contrast with the examples of what has happened in the region before, when we made our allies uncertain.
AMANPOUR: Can I try one more question about why --
EMANUEL: Go ahead.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you what would you tell your --
EMANUEL: Give it another --
AMANPOUR: I had to give it another shot.
EMANUEL: -- give it the old college try.
AMANPOUR: I'm going to give it one more college try.
President Biden seems to be in a spat with David Axelrod, another of your former colleagues. How do you feel about actual Democrats dividing the president for his age and the rest of it?
EMANUEL: Again, you know what I'm allowed to say and I will go back to what I said earlier. This is going to be an election that's going to be very clear as we get closer and closer to election day about a choice.
President Biden has outlined as he always repeatedly said a philosophy and to me that is exactly what's true. And that is all I can say in generic term. Otherwise I'm going to go over the line of what I am allowed to say, but I do think he has not only a credible case of what he is going to say -- what he has done in the past, it is the foundation most importantly to the future.
Do we want a future where America's leadership is respected? Do we want a future where we're building a future for all Americans to benefit. And to me, that is going to be clearer and clearer each day, as you get closer to whom should be the leader. I can't say more although I would really like to.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you one more thing that you might like to answer because I teased it. Politico says he needs to call Rahm Emanuel back. So if summoned, would you serve?
EMANUEL: That's a hypothetical and I'm not answering hypotheticals. It's not the appropriate thing to do. I can say this. I fully enjoy what I'm doing as a U.S. ambassador. I'm honored that President Biden asked me to do it and I'm enjoying the work and I find it very intellectually stimulating and this crucial time with the number one ally of the United States, not only in the region but in the world.
AMANPOUR: Rahm Emanuel, Ambassador -- thank you so much indeed for joining us.
EMANUEL: Thanks for letting me dodge every one of your questions.
AMANPOUR: That's not good for my career.
AMANPOUR: Laughs aside, with the Biden administration dealing with politics at home, and geo-strategically stretched abroad, is Ukraine's fight to survival slipping out of focus? Russia's neighbors are raising the alarm.
Next, the Iron Lady of the Baltics warns us not to take our eye off the Putin ball.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back. So what about the big global picture? Can the United States confront all these wars and challenging relationships at the same time? Few comments have aged as badly.
JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: In the Middle East region, it is quieter today than it has been in two decades.
AMANPOUR: Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and a catastrophic misread of the region just eight days before the Hamas attack on Israel plunged the Middle East into war. Now, of course, it has the administration's full attention.
But while the U.S. and its allies are focused there -- what does that mean for Ukraine, now worried about being left behind?
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: If Russia will kill all of us, they will attack NATO countries and you will send your sons and daughters. And it will be -- I'm sorry, but the price will be higher.
AMANPOUR: With aid for Kyiv locked up by skeptical Republicans in Congress, Democrats are pushing back.
SENATOR CHRIS COONS (D-DE): We are at risk of failing, of handing Putin a victory, right when he is on the verge of defeat.
AMANPOUR: With the prospect of Donald Trump becoming the Republican presidential nominee, who has openly laid down this gauntlet.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will remember the head of the country stood up, and said does that mean that if Russia attacks my country, you will not be there? That's right. That's what it means. I will not protect you.
(END VIDEOTAPE) AMANPOUR: Putin's nervous neighbors aren't banking on a white knight from the west to save them. Once bitten by a Soviet invasion, these Baltic states are twice shy.
Leaders like Lithuania's former president Dalia Grybauskaite dubbed the "Steel Magnolia", she's been telling me what is happening in the world right now is creating a perfect storm for President Putin to exploit.
AMANPOUR: Madam President, do you feel that Putin is potentially thinking he can take advantage of this. Recently, you said Putin is a survival threat for Lithuania.
DALIA GRYBAUSKAITE, FORMER LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT: Yes, of course. It is a perfect storm for him, perfect situation. He is in the shadow, even could and will probably behave more aggressively. And that's what we expected and we will expect in the future from him. And for him, yes, it is a very convenient situation.
AMANPOUR: What is Lithuania doing about it?
GRYBAUSKAITE: We're starting from the NATO level, from the defensive plans -- the defense plans changing, and also look to the bottom -- to the bottom of our people, with civil preparations.
It is part of our social and civil resilience. We're not only trying to fight the informational war, the lies around the war, but also, we try to increase our own resilience because we have been living on the border, we know our unfriendful (ph) neighbor and we can say even enemy and rival. And we try not only to help ourselves, to understand some difficulty here, but reuniting our neighbors to explain, and to prepare all of us together, for this upcoming possible increase of threats and aggression from the Russia side.
AMANPOUR: I wonder what you make about the so-far blocking of Ukraine aid from Congress, and also, President Trump has suddenly come up again and said, you know, back then, when I was president, one of the heads of state asked me, would I defend them if Russia attacked, and he said no, I told them I will not protect you if Russia attacks. Do you recall that time?
GRYBAUSKAITE: Yes, I recall that time. And I was in the meeting of NATO in Brussels at the first visit of President Trump's visit in Brussels, where the threat of withdrawing of the U.S. from NATO which was very much hanging in the air.
And the mistakes -- I say mistakes now, with the leadership of the Republican Party is doing, will turn very much, and very fast against U.S. itself.
AMANPOUR: Are you saying that NATO has still not stepped up enough?
GRYBAUSKAITE: Not at all. Not at all. Not at all. That is a problem that we are talking about, what we're discussing a lot. We're giving assistance drop by drop for Ukrainians not to sink and not to die. But we're not giving them enough to win. And it is not for Ukrainians to win, it is for us, all of us to win against an aggressor.
This two years show that it is our mistake, it's our weaknesses, why Ukraine is still in this kind of bloodshed and battle against this aggressive infidels.
AMANPOUR: What would you say right now NATO should do differently?
GRYBAUSKAITE: NATO was supposed to do differently from the very beginning and not to allow only Ukrainians to fight against this aggression.
We still try to buy our consciousness with support for Ukraine. But that's a conceptual mistake.
GRYBAUSKAITE: It is not supposed to be support for Ukraine to defend themselves. They're defending us, all of us, all democracies, all the rest of the countries, all peace around the world and in Europe.
And we are not involved ourselves in this. We are allowing Ukraine to do this instead of us. That's a conceptual mistake.
AMANPOUR: So Madam President, are you calling for Lithuanian, American, British, French, German boots on the ground?
GRYBAUSKAITE: From the very beginning even two years ago I said that Russia could be and should be defeated on the field. Not by hearings, not by discussions, not by plans, not by conferences but on the ground, on the battlefield. And we're not doing this.
We're only thinking that someone else, Ukrainians instead of us will do it. Sooner or later, I'm sure especially in this new geopolitical environment, where for Putin is a lot of window of opportunities are appearing and opening. He will confront us. And we will be under pressure to that seriously. Not as it is now.
AMANPOUR: Finally, you know the Americans have always said that they don't want to get into World War III with Putin, and yet you think that actually there needs to be NATO boots on the ground.
GRYBAUSKAITE: I think that we are involved over there. And Putin and other aggressors are already dragged us in. We see this on Ukrainian land. We're seeing this in Israel and Gaza. We're seeing the behavior of Iran and other proxies.
So we are falling into this global conflict. And we're not stopping it. We're not (INAUDIBLE) in advance. We're just watching how we're all falling into this problem.
AMANPOUR: Madam President, thank you very much for joining us.
GRYBAUSKAITE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: A stern warning indeed.
And up next, accountability and international law. From the archive, 28 years after he was charged with genocide, my conversation with the Butcher of Bosnia, Ratko Mladic and how America helped end the worst atrocities on European soil since World War II.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
Respect international law. That is what Israel's friends are urging in its war against Hamas. With more Gazans killed than in any previous conflicts combined, warnings of alleged war crimes are growing louder.
Hamas is also accused of committing war crimes against civilians in Israel on October 7th.
So I've gone to my archive, to remember how for the first time since the Nuremberg Trials put Nazis in the dock (ph), the world created the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. That was in 1993. And in 1995, 28 years ago this week, it charged the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic with genocide and crimes against humanity for besieging and slaughtering civilians in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. Tens of thousands of men and women and children were killed in the most horrific and brutal way.
As a young reporter witnessing and learning about the most heinous crimes under international law, I interviewed Karadzic and Mladic many times. Mladic could barely conceal his disdain for their victim, Bosnia's Muslim population.
RATKO MLADICH, BUTCHER OF BOSNIA (through translator): We'd be (INAUDIBLE) after Muslims. Good to have them around but in a smaller concentration.
AMANPOUR: Chilling words from the man they call "The Butcher of Bosnia", General Ratko Mladic, the snide humor masked his killer instinct. It defined Mladic and it made him an uncomfortable man to confront.
And we'd see this preening smile again and again as the war unfolded.
Indeed the Muslims, the Bosnian government said -- I had been covering the Bosnian war for more than a year by the time I met him, living in the shell-sniped and besieged city of Sarajevo, a year of witnessing the ferocious war machine that the Bosnian Serb commander had unleashed and he did not like my reporting.
MLADIC: What is the lady's name?
AMANPOUR: Christiane --
MLADIC: Christiane? I like (INAUDIBLE) Christina.
It won't be difficult for her to understand, because when I saw her first reports from Sarajevo, I was very angry.
AMANPOUR: Mladic was commanding the Bosnian Serb military mission to carve out their own ethnically-pure republic and join it into a greater Serbia.
This was a daily occurrence, dodging bullets, as we covered the unfolding tragedy.
For the Bosnian Muslims, the villain was clear.
You know, your own people, and your soldiers, to them, you're a great man, you're a hero. To your enemies, you're somebody to be feared and somebody to be hated. How do you feel about that?
MLADIC: Very interesting question. The first things you say are correct.
AMANPOUR: Prosecutors say what Mladic believed to be his greatness was in fact ethnic cleansing and genocide. It would reach its climax with the massacre at Srebrenica July 11th, 1995, more than three years into this brutal war.
It was meant to be a U.N. protected zone for Muslims. When Mladic's forces overran U.N. positions and invaded the tiny enclave, they handed out candies, and General Mladic promised the townspeople they would be safe.
AMANPOUR: "Don't panic. Let the small children and women pass," he said. "Don't be afraid. No one will do you any harm."
His soldiers slaughtered more than 7,000 men and boys who tried to flee. Hurem Suljic was one who miraculously survived the massacre, I tracked him down in the Bosnian-held town of Tuzla, four months later.
JULEM SULJIC, SREBRENICA MASSACRE SURVIVOR: The Serbs said don't look around. Then I heard a lot of shooting and bodies fell on top of me. They were the people standing behind me. I fell too.
AMANPOUR: Here he says, he saw Mladic one last time.
SULJIC: He stood there and waited until they killed them. When they killed them, he got back in his car and left.
AMANPOUR: Hurem Suljic said he will testify if Mladic ever comes to trial.
After that massacre, the U.S. led a bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb military positions and peace negotiations that eventually ended the fighting. Mladic became a wanted man, and soon went into hiding. I never knew if I would see him again. The man with whom I had stood
on the Bosnian hilltop at the height of the war. But it was with deep satisfaction that I watched Mladic stand in the dark at the Hague to finally face the justice he so brutally denied others.
MLADIC: I am General Ratko Mladic.
AMANPOUR: America calls him a war criminal. And under any kind of U.N. tribunal, he may have to be prosecuted. What does he think about that?
And it's a tough question, but he's a tough man and he can answer it.
MLADIC: Yes, I can take it. I've taken more rough ones. I can take those, too.
I defended my people. And only my people can judge me. And there's no greater honor than defending your people.
AMANPOUR: But the world judged him. Indeed, Hurem Suljic's testimony helped convict Mladic in November, 2017. He was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and he sentenced to life imprisonment.
In a statement at the time, the tribunal judge described the evidence of atrocities as quote "scenes from hell written on the darkest pages of human history". And so the path to justice maybe long but it can be reached.
Coming up next on the show --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BATISTE: I won the biggest prize in music. Come home. She's back in the hospital. This is what we're dealing with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The Grammy-winning artist Jon Batiste and director Matthew Heineman talk to me about triumph, tragedy and music in their new film.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP
BATISTE: It is really a toy that I've made into more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Welcome back.
We turn now to a story of tragedy, triumph, and love. Musician Jon Batiste rose to fame as Stephen Colbert's late show musical director and he's now a powerhouse in his own right. In 2022, he was nominated for 11 Grammy awards. But that very same day, his wife was Suleika (ph) was told that her cancer had returned after a decade in remission. She is better now.
And their story is being told in a new film "American Symphony". Here's a clip from the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BATISTE: Music comes from life experiences.
SULEIKA JAOUAD, WIFE OF JON BATISTE: We've both had so many good things happening.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the Grammy goes to --
JAOUAD: And so many incredibly hard things.
BATISTE: Would this remission last years and then come back? We don't know.
JAOUAD: I honestly don't know how to hold (INAUDIBLE).
BATISTE: You have to confront the brutal reality. But at the same time, have completely unwavering faith.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Batiste has been nominated for another six Grammys this year, and we spoke about all of life's highs and lows when he was here in London this week along with director Matthew Heineman.
AMANPOUR: Jon Batiste, Matthew Heineman -- welcome to the program. "American Symphony", I think Jon, it was designed to be a different beast than it turned out to be.
AMANPOUR: Tell me about what you intended, even though you aren't the film maker, and what it turned out to be.
BATISTE: We wanted to take the tradition of a symphony and create something that had never been done before, and push myself to create something that was a vision of how I see music.
Expansive. Marching band musicians with indigenous American musicians with modular synthesizers, with classical musicians, jazz musicians, Venezuelan musicians, all creating a new age orchestra.
And I wanted to document that process. My good friend Matt and I, we sat down, we talked about that, we talked about wanting to make a process film that documented this incredible new groundbreaking symphony.
And guess what? The next month, the same week as we found out that Suleika's leukemia came back, the same week I found out I was nominated for 11 Grammys. Literally a month after deciding we were going to film, this occurred. And then we had to make the decision, do we film? Do we continue to keep filming?
AMANPOUR: So life essentially intervened in a way that was a real body blow.
BATISTE: No. Everything changed. As a family, any families going through tragedy, any families going through this kind of thing knows everything shifts. Priorities change and life comes into view in a very acute way.
AMANPOUR: What was it like for you as a filmmaker, because this was almost more personal, right. Perhaps the most personal thing you've ever done?
MATTHEW HEINEMAN, DIRECTOR: Yes. I mean people keep asking why are you making this film, you know, make concert films.
For me this is in line with everything I've done. I try to make films about people that fascinate me, people that challenge me, people that inspire me.
And I think my goal with everything is to try to get as intimate and close to my subjects as possible. We were filming, you know, 16, 18 hours a day, seven days a week for seven months.
AMANPOUR: That's a lot. I mean one could call that intrusive.
BATISTE: One could call it intrusive. You know, it was really a decision we constantly had to reassess as a family. Do we keep filming.
The next morning, we come back, we see meds in the bedroom, literally in the bedroom. In the Sloan Kettering Cancer ward or on stage at Carnegie Hall, inches away from my face with the steady cam in moments I don't even want to spoil but just there's so much.
AMANPOUR: How are you doing right now?
BATISTE: I have faith that everything can change.
AMANPOUR: I first came across you when you were the musical director of Stephen Colbert's "Late Show", right?
AMANPOUR: And I wonder, you've become a phenomenon on your own. And I just wonder what that journey was like from New Orleans? A young boy growing up in New Orleans, a black musician, what was it like, that journey? Was it difficult? BATISTE: Definitely Very difficult. Very difficult. Think about every
step of the way being misunderstood. And also having great support and having great success based upon that misperception.
So people see the misperception and they think, oh, amazing, you've peaked. Oh, you've made it to the -- this is you, you're doing great. And in your mind, you're like, I haven't even got started yet. In your mind you think, huh, this is all you expect of me?
That's the biggest hurdle of being an artist that's about unity, about bringing people together, about uplifting people and about being excellent. You've got to transcend so many misperceptions.
AMANPOUR: There's a mini piano on the floor. What do you call that?
BATISTE: This thing, man. I call it a harmona-board. Harmona-board like harmonica and keyboard put together.
AMANPOUR: And that's what you first learned?
BATISTE: This is one of my early instruments. I started on the percussion and piano and then my dad brought this home. He's a great musician. He brought it home from Japan. I guess in Japan they would learn this in schools as like part of the music education. It's really a toy that I've made into more.
Theme from the symphony.
AMANPOUR: The only reason I'm laughing is because I read that your teacher at Julliard just could not get a grip and basically sent you to the psychiatrist because you wouldn't put the melodica down.
BATISTE: That's true. Yes, that's true. That's true. It was -- I'm laughing now just because the way things turned, the turn of events.
But you know, now I'm on the board of Julliard, so we're changing that.
AMANPOUR: Matthew, this is your first musical film.
HEINEMAN: I think the way Jon lives his life, the way Suleika lives her life is so improvisational. You never know, every day I was constantly surprised and obviously in his music that's inherent in the way he approaches music.
But I had to match that cinematically. I had to dance with how they're dancing. And I think we all sort of shared this idea that magic can exist behind every door. You just have to open it.
And that's a really wonderful way to live life. It's a really fun way to make a film.
AMANPOUR: And it's a great way to end this wonderful conversation. Matthew, Jon -- thank you much.
HEINEMAN: Thank you. (END VIDEOTAPE)
AMANPOUR: "American Symphony".
And when we come back, a little Q&A. "Ask Amanpour" is next.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back.
In our complicated world, clarity is more important than ever. That's why I'm taking some of your questions about the events today which shape tomorrow. So, let's find out what's on your mind this week.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Christiane. My name is Mrs. Timmers (ph). I'm from (INAUDIBLE).
Can I ask you what scares you the most in this world?
Thank you. Bye-bye.
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AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I think what scares me the most, especially at this time, is the weaponization of words and what some people call post-truth. That they feel they don't know what's true, what's false, what's opinion, what's made up.
AMANPOUR: So especially in these times, I would urge everybody to really be careful where you look for what's going on and to seek credible legacy media that has, you know, real integrity and real history.
That's all we have time for. I'll have more of your questions and my answers next week.
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I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. Thank you for watching and see you again next week.
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