Finally a movie that shows interpreters doing what they really do.

February 18, 2013 § 3 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Several weeks ago I watched Kathryn Bigelow’s movie: “Zero Dark Thirty.” Like many others, I was focused on the screen fascinated by such a successful mission of our intelligence and military forces, but I had an additional reason to be happy with the movie. Bigelow and Mark Boal, the screenplay author, stuck to authenticity and historical accuracy by including and showing the role of the military interpreter.  I figured that on this Academy Award week when everybody will be talking about movies, I should bring to all of my colleagues’ attention the very positive depiction of our profession in this film.  It feels so good to see how the profession is acknowledged as an integral and essential part of the mission, and how the interpreters are shown performing their services instead of acting like a United Nations James Bond of the booth as we were portrayed on another movie that had nothing to do with interpreting but the title.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a movie, not a documentary. Its main goal is to sell tickets and entertain, therefore, it shows interpreters in action at different parts of the movie, not all the time. Already a long movie, it would have been longer (and boring) with interpreters in every situation they were required; however, it gives the viewer a good idea of how important the military interpreter was to the operation. There is one scene where an interrogation is being conducted through an interpreter performing (as it happens in the real world) a consecutive rendition. And of course, there is the sequence at the end of the movie when during the raid a navy seal turns to the interpreter and tells him to ask a young woman if the man they just shot was Bin Laden. You see the interpreter (previously seen getting off the chopper in full gear alongside the seals) pulling the woman aside, asking her, and reporting back to his superior.

I also believe that this movie helps other interpreters not in the military field to understand what a military interpreter does. Despite previous posts where I have (and many of you have) explained how military interpreters are not neutral because one of the parties they interpret for is the enemy whose defeat is essential, this blog has seen many opinions by colleagues stating that military interpreters should be impartial, that they should convey the idea to all parties that they are neutral, and that military interpreters should interpret everything because that is the only way for both parties to communicate.   This movie illustrates what a military interpreter does, how they work in full gear with a weapon, how they interpret for one party (their commander) and only inform the other party what he has been instructed to let him know. It also shows the difference between a military interpreter who works in a conflict zone, and those military interpreters who provide community (not military) interpreter services in the event of an evacuation due to a natural disaster, or any other type of relief, including helping civilians in countries at war with the military forces they work for.  I would love to see your comments about the portrayal of these military interpreters in the film, or if you prefer, your comments about any other movie where interpreters were showcased.

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