Jon Stewart wasn’t looking to direct a movie, he says, but when Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was arrested just days after appearing on The Daily Show, Stewart became involved in the story that would lead to his directorial debut. Rosewater, adapted by Stewart from Bahari’s memoir, Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, tells the story of the journalist’s arrest, interrogation, and four-month imprisonment while covering the 2009 Iranian elections.
The Daily Show segment in which Bahari appeared before his arrest, “Persians of Interest,” was used by interrogators as evidence of his alleged “media espionage.” While Bahari doesn’t blame Stewart for the ordeal, he maintains that Stewart likely “felt personally invested in the story because his name came up in a dark interrogation room in a prison in Iran.” He appeared on The Daily Show after his release and, before getting into a more serious discussion, the two engaged in a lighthearted banter. Bahari jokingly wished to retract his permission for Stewart to run the initial interview, and Stewart offered, “Well, they say comedy is imprisonment plus time.”
While an initial press screening met with mixed reviews, the release of a film about the dangers faced by war correspondents is, unfortunately, as timely as ever. Stewart is braced for criticism not just on his directorial prowess but also on his decision to cast Gael García Bernal, who is Mexican, to play Bahari—he recently explained that decision to the Hollywood Reporter. Rosewater will premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in early September and open in theaters on Nov. 7. As for any future big-screen projects, Stewart quips, “I’m gonna see who else I can get arrested.”