Director Renny Harlin talks 5 Days of War

5 Days of War is Renny Harlin’s latest offering, a sobering, and fact-based story of western journalists covering the deadly Russian invasion of Georgia.

The atrocities they saw and recorded were mind bending, reminiscent of the Nazi occupation of Poland. 

But the American news networks didn’t want their footage – Georgia was too remote, and there were too many other stories to cover.   Harlin spent a good deal of time and energy in Georgia, gathering information and testimonials for Five Days of War, and he did it all on his own terms. 

Once a director of big budget action films, and subject to the demands of big studios, he has found his heart in intimate films like Five Days of War – stories with real world significance and gravity. 

Monsters and Critics spoke with Harlin on the DVD release of the film and his commitment to Georgia.

M&C: You show the American news networks didn’t want to run the footage of the atrocities in Georgia, so few knew about the situation.   Was that part of your motivation to make the film?

Harlin: Absolutely.  It was true I did my research when I started on this project I wasn’t clear when I started, what happened as a normal audience member reading news online and went there and talked to journalists and refugees and soldiers it was just astonishing to understand that news is business, and shown  the film to CNN and they said this is a very accurate portrayal of how things go – there are certain time slots for certain news, certain political angles and its true, the journalist may get a great story but it may never be seen.

M&C: The story is fact-based which is astonishing in this day and age.  It reminded me of footage of Nazi Germany and Poland.  How can Russia get away with it?

Harlin: Right now when we think about what’s going on in the middle east and Africa, we get glimpses, “29 people killed yesterday” but news is business and they can’t tell us the scores of women raped and  children who are raped and tortured and its happening and no one can do anything about it. 

The torture of old people and the rapes of old women we showed in the film happen.

M&C: What’s the situation in Georgia now?

Harlin: I’m very familiar with the country.  Two parts of the country are occupied by Russians and they have no plans to move away and built military bases.  There are tensions on the border but the Georgians are moving ahead with rebuilding their country and the economy is booming and has great hopes of being part of EU and being successful. 

So they are hopeful but cautious for the possibility of being EU. If Georgia becomes a member, then they have the protection of those countries and have a different situation.  Now they are on their own like ex-soviet countries and Russia is trying to influence Ukraine and want to have their influence because of natural riches like oil or gas.

M&C: The real life tributes at the end of the film are incredibly moving.   How did you find these people? 

Harlin: I found them early on the first time I went to do my research.  There were camps with tens of thousands of people who lost their homes, beautiful little homes with apple trees and chickens and now they live in barracks with no hope of anything else in the future.  They lost families.  Through interpreters I learned their stories and that became my driving force.

I decided we should record these stories and give them a chance to get out. On the last day of shooting, we brought them into the studio and recorded.  At that time I didn’t plan to use them, but when I saw it, so heart breaking, I felt I had to include a few at the end of the movie.  No matter how jaded the audience might be they would have to accept that these things are happening and they can’t dismiss it.

M&C: Was there a personal connection for you?

Harlin: I think the personal connection is that I grew up in Finland and we were in the shadow of the Soviet Union.  There were tensions because of that big brother watching us.  When I read about this war, I felt the same kind of David and Goliath, a small country with 4.million people trying to be successful and provide a future and freedom for its citizens.

M&C: This film marks a move away from big budget action for you.  Did you feel freer to do what you wanted to do?

Harlin: I loved it.  It was challenging shooting in a war torn country.  We were in the mountain villages and there were no hotels or restaurants.  We lived in private homes and train cars and brought all our equipment from outside.

There were a lot of challenges but there was fantastic freedom and no commercial pressures, freedom to tell the story the way we wanted to do it. My main focus was to tell the truth and tell it in an exciting way to entertain the audience, and to have them stick with me and get the message across.

M&C: Do you plan to do more real world political stories? 

Harlin: Yes, I’ve grown up.  I’ve been making films for 25 years.  I have films in development, a couple of those films history are about real life events and I’m excited.  It gives me another kind of an aspect to why I’m doing films.   

I came to Hollywood in the 80’s and struggled to make a living and get a foothold.  I made a few small films and had quick success with Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger and had the opportunity to make big films.   

I made a couple that weren’t successful and had to reinvent myself and look for different opportunities and genres.  Hollywood has changed a lot and a lot of movies are comic book movies.  I’m not a big fan so I look for the movies that I fell in love with as a kid, that have real emotion, and resonance and reality.   

I’m a fan of the seventies action film with intricate plots and unpredictable characters and I’m lucky to keep making movies and follow the kinds of the things I believe in.

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