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Cyrus Nowrasteh on set, 2008
September 19, 1956 |
|Occupation||Screenwriter, director, producer|
Cyrus Nowrasteh (Persian: سیروس نورسته) is an American screenwriter and director of theatrical films, television shows, and made-for-TV movies. He is best known for his involvement in the controversial docudrama The Path to 9/11.
Of Iranian descent, he was born in Boulder, Colorado, and grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. He graduated from Madison West High School in 1974 and was a city boys high school tennis champion. Nowrasteh attended New Mexico State University on an athletic scholarship and later transferred to the University of Southern California to attend the School of Cinematic Arts, graduating in 1977.
Nowrasteh began his career in 1986 writing on the CBS television series, The Equalizer. He went on to work on other series (Falconcrest, D.E.A.), and wrote the pilot for the USA Network show La Femme Nikita (1996). He also worked on independent films such as the American/Brazilian production The Interview (1997, writer/co-producer), which played at Sundance and on the Showtime network; and Norma Jean, Jack and Me (1998), a film that was not theatrically released but played the festival circuit and aired on HDNet.
In 2001 he wrote and directed the highly rated, award-winning Showtime presentation The Day Reagan Was Shot, which starred Richard Dreyfuss as Alexander Haig and was executive produced by Oliver Stone. The following year he wrote 10,000 Black Men Named George, the story of the Pullman strike of the 1930s, for Showtime.
For both of the above films Nowrasteh received the Pen USA West Literary Award for Best Teleplay—the only writer in the history of the Pen awards to win two years in a row in the same category. The Day Reagan Was Shot also received the Eddie Award and the Golden Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture for Television, 2001, as well as a SAG nomination for Best Actor (Richard Dreyfuss).
Following that Nowrasteh wrote and produced the controversial ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11. He then went on to co-write (with his wife, Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh), and direct the film The Stoning of Soraya M., released in 2009 by Lionsgate Films.
Nowrasteh was attacked by Conservatives for an alleged "liberal bias" in his Showtime film, The Day Reagan Was Shot. Former Reagan National Security Advisor, Richard Allen, led the charge with a piece in the Wall Street Journal (December 14, 2001), accusing Nowrasteh and Executive Producer Oliver Stone of "yet another dubious Oliver Stone production" and referring to it as "The Day They Shot the Truth." Mr. Allen based his piece on tapes he had kept from that day, releasing only six minutes to support his position. Nowrasteh responded in the Los Angeles Times (December 24, 2001) and a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal (January 2, 2002), "the clear solution is to have Allen release the entire unedited tape and allow anyone to make the comparisons and draw whatever conclusions seem warranted." Nowrasteh concluded his Los Angeles Times piece by writing, "The Day Reagan Was Shot provides the first-ever dramatization of a constitutional crisis and government cover-up (both amply supported by facts) and the threat they pose to a nation when a president becomes incapacitated. This is important and relevant and raises issues that should be discussed openly."
Nowrasteh was attacked by liberals for an alleged "conservative bias" in his controversial ABC docudrama The Path to 9/11 (see below), which he wrote and co-produced. Nowrasteh describes himself as more libertarian than conservative or liberal.
The Path to 9/11
The 2006 ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11 aired under much controversy. Critics said it fictionalized the lead-up to the September 11, 2001 attacks in order to direct blame to the Clinton administration. Although Nowrasteh's screenplay for The Path to 9/11 was billed by the ABC network as having been "based on the 9/11 Commission Report", there were accusations that the screenplay evidenced political bias because of its allegedly contrafactual portrayal of events.
Nowrasteh admitted dramatic license in the movie. However, he maintained that a certain amount of dramatic license must be allotted in the process of writing a dramatic script with a historical underpinning (see docudrama and biopic). Although the precise conversations depicted in the script may never have taken place, he alleged that the general tone and content of events depicted in The Path to 9/11 were true. Nowrasteh was quoted in FrontPage Magazine as saying that the film "dramatizes the frequent opportunities the administration had in the '90s to stop bin Laden in his tracks but lacked the will to do so." When asked if he thought of the script as a "historical document," Nowrasteh has responded:
No, but I stand by the original version of the movie, and I stand by the edited version. ... There has to be conflation of events. The most obvious problem any dramatist faces is that of sheer length. I had to collapse the events of eight and a half years into five hours. I don't know any other way to do it except collapse, conflate, and condense.
Critics, including 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste pointed out that some scenes in the film were complete fabrications. Richard Miniter, a conservative author and critic of the Clinton administration, said that a key scene with Sandy Berger was based on "Internet myth": "If people wanted to be critical of the Clinton years there's things they could have said, but the idea that someone had bin Laden in his sights in 1998 or any other time and Sandy Berger refused to pull the trigger, there's zero factual basis for that." Nowrasteh wrote about his work on Path To 9/11 in an opinion piece in the opinionjournal.com on September 18, 2006. He stated:
The Path to 9/11 was set in the time before the event, and in a world in which no party had the political will to act. The principals did not know then what we know now. It is also indisputable that Bill Clinton entered office a month before the first attack on the World Trade Center. Eight years then went by, replete with terrorist assaults on Americans and American interests overseas. George W. Bush was in office eight months before 9/11. Those who actually watched the entire miniseries know that he was given no special treatment.
Critics—including President Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright, former Clinton aides, an FBI agent who quit as a consultant to the film, 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee H. Hamilton, and some conservatives including Bill Bennett and John Fund—asserted that the film contained inaccuracies such as its depiction of Clinton as so distracted by the Lewinsky scandal that he neglected the terrorism issue (although the 9/11 Commission Report states that "we have found no reason to question" the testimony of Clinton aides who claimed that the Lewinsky scandal had no bearing on national security considerations). Nowrasteh is quoted in the documentary Blocking the Path to 9/11 as saying that his intention in depicting Clinton as "somewhat hamstrung" in his response to terrorism was, ironically, to make Clinton a more sympathetic figure.
Blocking The Path to 9/11 Documentary
In August, 2008, talk show host and documentary filmmaker John Ziegler and producer David Bossie of Citizens United premiered a documentary co-produced, written and directed by Ziegler entitled Blocking The Path to 9/11, which revisits the political controversy behind the ABC miniseries. Through interviews with the Path to 9/11 filmmakers (including Nowrasteh) and others, news clips regarding the controversy, and footage from the miniseries itself, the documentary asserts not only that accusations of the filmmakers' covert political agenda were unfounded, but that they were generated by Clinton-era politicians concerned that the miniseries tarnished their political legacy, and were reported uncritically by bloggers and a biased news media. The documentary also claims that Disney/ABC ultimately shelved plans to release a DVD of the miniseries as a result of pressure from the political left, specifically the Clintons themselves. As noted in the documentary, Disney/ABC denies this and claims the decision not to release a DVD was purely a business decision.
Regarding the documentary's intention, filmmaker Ziegler stated, "... the point of my documentary is not to 'blame' 9/11 on Bill Clinton. We just want to expose the real history that led to the attacks and correct the historical record about what happened to this film so that we can help prevent this from happening again in the future."
The Stoning of Soraya M.
The Stoning of Soraya M. (Persian: .سنگسار ثريا م) is a 2008 American drama film adapted from French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's 1994 book of the same name based on the true story of a woman falsely convicted of adultery in Iran and subsequently stoned to death. The film version was directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and written by Nowrasteh and his wife, screenwriter Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh. It stars Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, as well as James Caviezel and Mozhan Marnò.
Because of its highly critical attitude toward the Iranian legal system, the controversial book, an international bestseller, was banned in Iran. Likewise, the film version of The Stoning of Soraya M., even before its release, made its way onto a list of American films that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad deemed offensive and for which he demanded an apology. But the film's release also drew enough attention to the issue of stoning in Iran that it sufficiently embarrassed the Iranian authorities into announcing consideration of a ban on stoning and other harsh legal punishments.
The Stoning of Soraya M. had its world premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won Runner-up for the Audience Choice Award. It also won Second Runner-up for the Cadillac People's Choice Award, as well as the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. The film also won the Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award, and the 2009 Ghent Film Festival's Canvas Audience Award. At the 2009 Satellite Awards, it was named one of the year's Top Ten Films and nominated for Best Drama Film, while its star Shohreh Agdashloo won Best Actress in a Drama.
In 2010, the film was hailed as one of Movieguide's Ten Best 2009 Movies for Mature Audiences and was the co-winner, with Invictus (film), of Movieguide's Faith and Freedom Award for Promoting Positive American Values for 2009. It also shared, with "Women in Shroud," the Cinema for Peace Award for Justice in conjunction with the Berlin Film Festival and won Outstanding Foreign Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, John Jurgensen said the film was shot over six weeks in a mountain village in Jordan. The stoning sequence itself took six days to shoot. Jurgensen reports that "some human-rights advocates call the film inaccurate and sensationalistic," but that director Cyrus Nowrasteh responds, "A movie like this needs to be absolutely uncompromising in its approach. The subject demands it."
Linking the film's June 2009 release to the 2009 Iranian election protests occurring simultaneously, and referring to the continued practice of stoning in that country, Hugh Hewitt wrote in the Washington Examiner, "Every American who sees The Stoning of Soraya M will emerge from the theater far wiser about what is driving the revolt of the people in Iran."
The Young Messiah
Nowrasteh directed the biblical drama The Young Messiah, which was released on March 11, 2016. The story was adapted by Cyrus and Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh from Anne Rice's Christ the Lord, and was produced by 1492 Pictures and Ocean Blue Entertainment in association with CJ Entertainment. The film was distributed by Focus Features. The project had a jumpstart in early 2013 but was shut down in preproduction and was seemingly dead. Then in late 2014, the project was resurrected thanks to the efforts of Tracy K. Price and Bill Andrew, along with Italian producer Enzo Sisti. Filmed in Matera and Rome, Italy, the plot follows Jesus Christ at age seven, when he returns to Nazareth and learns about his true place as the son of God.
Among Nowrasteh's upcoming projects will reportedly be film adaptations of Thomas Tessier's book The Nightwalker  and The Last Campaign, Thurston Clarke's account of Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign.
His most notable other project is a film about Andrew Jackson entitled The Battle of New Orleans. He is partnered with producer/manager Alan Siegel and Gerard Butler has expressed interest in portraying Jackson who led a ragtag army in defeating the British at New Orleans on January 8, 1815.
- Veiled Threat, writer (1989)
- Norma Jean, Jack and Me, writer/director (1998)
- The Day Reagan Was Shot, writer/director (2001)
- 10,000 Black Men Named George, writer (2002)
- The Path to 9/11, writer (2006)
- The Stoning of Soraya M., writer/director (2009)
- The Young Messiah, writer/director (2016)
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