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February 5, 2023

Film fest favourites: Nicholas Wrathall on Gore Vidal

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Director Nicholas Wrathall at the screening of 'Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia' at the 2014 Byron Bay Film Festival. Photo Matthew Cusack
Director Nicholas Wrathall at the screening of Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia at the 2014 Byron Bay Film Festival. Photo Matthew Cusack

Matthew Cusack

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia played to an enraptured audience at Session 9 of the 2014 Byron Bay Film Festival on Sunday night.

The film, which portrayed the life of a highly intelligent American author, writer, politician and political commentator like no other, also gave viewers a glimpse into the world as Vidal saw it.

Nicholas Wrathall, the film’s director, was thrilled to bring his film to Byron, not least because his father lives in the region, but also because he has a great respect for the integrity of the festival.

Nicholas became particularly interested in Gore Vidal around the time of 9/11 as Gore was one of few people from the mainstream media who was against the idea of the United States going to war in the Middle East.

‘I really started to take notice of him then, because he seemed like a real voice of reason,’ said Nicholas. ‘I started reading and researching more about him.’

In 2007 while speaking on conspiracy theories regarding the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Vidal said, ‘I’m not a conspiracy theorist; I’m a conspiracy analyst’.

‘Everything the Bushites touch is screwed up. They could never have pulled off 9/11, even if they wanted to.’

Interest quickly grew to near obsession with Nicholas going over hours and hours of archival material on Gore, the intention being to collate the best bits into one film, the result of which is Nicholas’s first feature-length documentary after more than 20 years of working in the film industry.

‘Many of the things he [Gore] talked about in the 1960s were considered very outspoken for the time, but some of them resonate even now,’ said Nicholas. ‘Some even seem like they could be contemporary discussions.’

Through a nephew of Gore’s, Nicholas also had the honour of interviewing Mr Vidal for this project in the last years of Vidal’s life before his death in 2012, which encompasses the life of one of America’s great writers, thinkers and political analysts.

During the global financial crisis, some of Nicholas’s investors withdrew their funding and the project had to be halted temporarily while new revenue streams were investigated, with Nicholas also investing a sizable amount of his own money into the film.

‘I think the film came out really well,’ said Nicholas. ‘It was quite a struggle to make and I wouldn’t like to go through that again, but I think the film is stronger and better because of the time and effort we took making it.’

The documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, New York, in April 2013.

‘Which was great,’ said Nicholas. ‘A lot of people are interested in Gore Vidal in New York so we had a really good premiere.

‘We played three or four times that week, sold out all our public screenings and got a lot of really good press. The film received a bit of attention and was subsequently invited to many other festivals.’

Nicholas said he thinks those who knew Gore Vidal’s work would be very interested in this film but there would also be a good deal of interest from younger people who are politically minded but don’t know so much about him.

Nicholas hopes that people who saw his documentary in Byron Bay found the film ‘interesting and inspiring in terms of the spirit of a very motivated, politically minded, intellectual man’.

The film will be screened in Melbourne and Sydney, as well as on the ABC later in the year.

Nicholas also hopes the film shows Gore’s motivation, which ‘was to speak truth to power throughout his whole life and I think it’s motivation for all of us to stick to our beliefs; and a lot can be achieved if we are willing to work hard and follow our belief system’.

View the film’s trailer below.

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