“I was part of the defense team”: Kill Team Director Dan Krauss

07/25/2014 4:00 AM |

Rather than a filmed redo of Mark Boal’s barnstorming 2011 expose on an American unit’s murder of Afghan civilians, Dan Krauss’s The Kill Team follows its emotionally&#8212and legally&#8212harrowing aftermath for whistleblower Pvt. Adam Winfield. Not that he downplays Winfield’s revelations of his unit’s “drop-weapon” technique, whereby a Staff Sergeant named Gibbs talked him and his cohorts into murdering Afghan civilians (mostly out of sheer boredom) and making it look like a legitimate combat engagement; just, the documentary’s core question is what next? As the Team&#8212including Winfield&#8212faces sentencing for war crimes, the breadth and sensitivity of Krauss’s inquiry demands to be seen, a potentially essential piece of work in the ongoing psychic disentangling of America’s longest war.

Correct me if I’m wrong; The Kill Team started because you were collecting video testimonies for Adam Winfield’s legal defense?

I don’t know that I would characterize it quite that way. It was more that I saw an opportunity to get my foot in the door. I met with his attorney, and we’d spoken about the case. He had offered the possibility to collect a little bit of interview material that he could use, and that I could retain ownership of. I had a strong sense there was a film to be made, and in early conversations he suggested we could maybe work something out, and I could meet with the Winfields and see if there is a film, see if they’d be amenable to it. We saw a way we could help each other.

Did the Winfields require serious convincing, or…?
Not really, for a couple of reasons. They were really acutely focused on the judicial proceedings; their son’s life was in jeopardy. My presence was somewhat trivial compared to what they were dealing with on a daily basis. I think, secondly, they saw, in the same way that I did, an opportunity. They wanted people to know about this, so that it wouldn’t happen again. And at the point that I was filming them, I think they felt their voice was being lost.

In terms of the military’s messaging after the Rolling Stone article, one of my questions as a viewer was, were attempts made to intimate or hinder you as a filmmaker covering this case?
For me, part of the benefit of working the way I did with the family and their attorney is, I was protected from subpoena. I was part of the defense team. That’s what made this whole thing work: I had privileged access. I had every kind of legal right to be there and to do the work I needed to do, without fearing that somebody would stop me, or, worse yet, seize my footage. This arrangement precluded that.

So you were only able to make this film while the trial was ongoing.
Part of the power of the film is that you are there in the room with the Winfields, and with their defense attorney, with his psychiatrist. You’re witnessing these events unfold. So without that tension, and without that in-the-moment emotion, the film would have a very different tenor and I think it would lose a bit of its power. As we were editing, we kept saying, it’s just so rare to see these kind of sensitive discussions played out in front of a camera.

One of the things that seems to be universal in the reviews is, the other members of Winfield’s platoon come off as remarkably even-handed about what they did. Were those interviews separate from the legal defense?

They weren’t part of the deal with the Winfields. The only exception, in a sense, was Morlock, because he was in prison and I got to him simply because I was there (at Fort Lewis, WA) already. So I had the opportunity to meet and discuss with him what I wanted to do with the film. As for Holmes, he hadn’t gone to prison yet; I interviewed him literally the day before he went to trial. So the interview with him and the one with Stoner, those were arranged entirely separate from the Winfields.