Film and TV

The Tillman Story: A Discussion with Director Amir Bar-Lev

The Tillman Story, director Amir Bar-Lev's documentary about Pat Tillman's family's search for the truth about his death, opens in theaters nationwide today.

We recently caught up with Bar-Lev to ask a few questions about the film.

What compelled you to make The Tillman Story?
[Tillman's death] was a story that received a lot of media attention, but the reality was quite different. It has all the elements of a scripted film, in some ways. Somebody wrote it had more twists and turns than an NFL playbook. When I was looking at all the documents with Dannie Tillman [Pat's mother], the hairs on my neck stood up. I couldn't believe all the things that hadn't been reported. I think any documentary filmmaker would jump at the opportunity to tell this story.

As you were filming, what affected you the most about this project?
The family's resilience really struck me the most. Few people would be able to do what Dannie's doing. You'd expect people who'd been through that to be walking wounds, but they have their heads held high and they keep going. They're not doing it for Pat -- they're doing it for the rest of us, because they believe in America, and they believe in the truth. Like Dannie said, 'This isn't about Pat. Pat's not coming back.' They're doing it for the principles.

You lobbied for a PG-13 rating for The Tillman Story, so that it could be shown in schools. But the MPAA gave it an "R" rating for language. How do you feel about that?
We can't have it both ways. We can't tell people that Pat Tillman's someone to look up to, and not acknowledge parts of him that don't fit the mold. For too long, we as a country have tried to cherry pick what we show of our history or war, and present a sanitized version. Yes, Tillman used colorful language. Soldiers use colorful language. I didn't put it in there to be titillating. That's how people talk when they're being shot at, and I think teenagers would understand that.

Did you feel a sense of responsibility when you were you making this film?
Yes. Pat's last words -- "I'm Pat fucking Tillman" -- are like he's saying, 'Don't make me into something I'm not.' The military was mythologizing him, taking him away from his family. We want to give him back to his family.

You've said that at the very least, you hope this documentary clears up the misconception that Tillman was killed in some type of "fog of war" accident. What other impacts do you hope this film has?
The shooting, in my mind, pales in comparison to what happened after the fact. The shooting took two minutes. The conspiracy has lasted six years. People should focus on the politicians, the publicists, the brass, and those who manipulated the public and used these people as cheap photo opps. This wasn't so much about the shooting as what happened afterwards.

The Tillman Story opens in theaters nationwide today. Visit for more information.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea