Description from TIFF 2013 catalog by Thom Powers:
Donald Rumsfeld has never been at a loss for words. As the US Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2006, Rumsfeld wielded words both to charm and to bully. His press conferences were lopsided battles where he controlled the flow of information and rarely left time for follow-up questions. In The Unknown Known, he gives in to a different kind of interview with the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris. Whether you think Rumsfeld is a patriot or a liar, he’s never less than mesmerizing. His dialogue with Morris is like a verbal duel, retracing controversial flashpoints such as the invasion of Iraq, accusations of torture, and the revelations of Abu Ghraib.
“The unknown known” is a phrase that Rumsfeld defined in a memo as “things you think you know that it turns out you did not.” As a self-avowed “obsessive,” Morris has carefully studied Rumsfeld’s blizzard of memos (which he calls “snowflakes”) to ask: what did he know and when did he know it? He traces Rumsfeld’s career path from Illinois congressman to the youngest Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford to the oldest Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush — a background critical to understanding the shaping of his alliances and ideology. Morris has the support of a first rate crew, including cinematographer Bob Chappell and composer Danny Elfman.
Rumsfeld will go down in US history as one of the dominant figures of the twenty first century’s first decade. Now that we’re into the second decade, it’s incumbent upon us to reflect on what that period meant, and how it’s shaped us. In the words of Rumsfeld, “Everything seems amazing in retrospect.”