Film and Television History

Interview in Spain with regard to the proposed Abraham Lincoln Battalion project.

Asked some questions by Spanish journalist Toni Garcia, I replied in writing. Some respondents have replied to me with various translations of my answers that do not entirely comport with the language that I used or the facts I intended to convey.  I’m not suggesting any willful intent by Mr. Garcia to simplify or deconstruct my own words, only that perhaps translation is sometimes problematic. So to be clear I am going leave the entire text of my replies right here:

—–Original Message—–

From: Toni Garcia
To: David Simon
Sent: Mon, Apr 9, 2018 12:57 pm
Subject: A few questions (and if there’s anything you wanna add)


thanks a lot.
You can’t imagine how it’s been with this news around here, people got crazy…
I’d love to publish asap, so when you have a minute, tomorrow is also ok. Thanks!
So, a few questions:
1) Anything you can reveal from the plot? I guess there is not a script yet.
It will generally follow the narrative of the Americans in the International Brigade from their arrival in 1937 until their departure from Spain two years later. It will be consistent with the unit histories of the Lincoln and Washington battalions.
2) What’s the exact involvement of Pelecanos and Lehane? Any of you guys coming to Spain for a while for research or something?
The plan is for us to write the six-part miniseries together. George and I have outlined the work and are awaiting full funding of the project by Mediapro and other producerial elements in the United States before we commence writing scripts with Dennis. I toured the major battlefields and key locations as a guest of Mediapro last year.
3) Why do you think a part America was so heavily involved in the spanish civil war? What was the main reason in your opinion?
We were no more heavily involved than other nations who took sides in the conflict. Certainly, the U.S. embargo on military assistance to either side was crippling to the loyalists, given that American corporations continued to supply the military revolt. And of course, the German and Italian fascists were more fully engaged on the side of the Francoists, as Stalin eventually engaged the Soviet Union and international communism on the side of the republican government. By that standard, the arrival of American volunteers in the republican ranks was notable, but not of a scale commensurate with that of other nations. And left-leaning volunteers came from Italy, Germany, England, Ireland, Canada and a dozen other places. The Quintana Brigada was truly an International Brigade.
4) What’s the rol of Mediapro on this? They finance the whole thing? Is there a third party involved?
They are funding a portion of the budget and seeking European backers for additional money. Other U.S.-based producerial elements are working with Blown Deadline to secure U.S. participation.
5) What was the spark for trying to move this project forward?
Mediapro came to us with a commitment to fund a certain minority share of the budget and a commitment to obtain other funding from European entities. That was a good faith gesture and it got me and my coproducer Nina Noble on a plane to begin meeting people and visiting Jarama, Brunete, Belchite, and the Ebro. Some location scouting was accomplished and the perameters of a workable budget were agreed upon. Meanwhile, in the United States, producer Mark Johnson, who I worked with on NBC’s Homicide years ago, and who has become enamored of the project, is attempting to find backers in my country.
6) You aware of the current political situation in Spain? Any thoughts?
I am neither a supporter of a united Spain nor of Catalan independence. It is a question on which an American — and particularly an American with no familial or historical roots in your part of the world — should rightly leave to those who must live in their own future. I have said that I do not think the matter can be solved with arrests or prison terms or riot police. I believe that much. Reference points such as French Canadian separatism and the Scottish-English question seem to suggest that the most practical means of resolving such historical moments involves open-ended negotiation, accommodations to both sides and a fundamental willingness to allow and tolerate critical elements of home rule. If that can’t happen or doesn’t happen, then the center won’t hold. Or it will hold only by force. And force, if it is only force, has its limits. So as a bystander, I hope both sides know how to talk and to say some things that the other side needs to hear. But again, I am merely a bystander. And save for the 80-year-old fault lines that underlie modern Spain — and which are there whether we tell the story of the Lincolns or not — all of what I just said is not actually the point or purpose of the planned narrative.
7) How was the process of selling this project to Mediapro? (I know some things off the record, but I’m not publishing anything without your permission).
Actually, they approached me, and Toni, I think you know the story better than most. A few years back, I attended a film festival in Aviles and you interviewed me for El Pais, and you asked me, open-ended, whether I had ever been to Spain before or whether I had any people in Spain. I replied that no, this was my first trip, and no, my people were from Hungary and Russia. But after a considerable amount of Asturian cider, I did acknowledge that one of my mother’s first cousins, Isadore Lebowitz, had attempted to reach your country to fight for the republicans in 1937. Izzy had joined the Lincolns and boarded a ship that docked in Rotterdam, only to be arrested by Dutch authorities and sent back to America. It seems my mother’s aunt, the formidable Aunt Nanye — who ran the Brooklyn bakery at which Izzy was employed as a driver — had no intention of allowing her nephew to die fighting Franco. So, with Jewish-mother-on-steroids determination, she had a Brooklyn alderman wire an arrest warrant for her nephew ahead to Rotterdam, claiming he had stolen money from the bakery. The rest of the Lincolns on the ship traveled over the Pyrennes to the civil war, and Izzy — furious at his aunt — was hauled back to America. I told you that story in jest.
You then asked me if there was anything I hoped to do on my first trip to Spain and I replied that I had hoped to dine at El Celler de Can Rocca in Girona but in typical fashion, I had not worked that problem months in advance so I was out of luck. Your article ran, and apparently, in honor of Isidore Lebowitz’s thwarted-but-genuine effort on behalf of the Spanish republic, the Rocca family had managed to clear a table for a seating. Later on that same trip, I was contacted by the folks at Mediapro who asked if I had ever considered writing something on the Lincolns or the Civil War.
 At a lunch with Mr. Roures and others from the company, I replied in no uncertain terms that any filmed narrative about the whole of the Spanish Civil War required Spanish writers and filmmakers leading the effort and that I would be loath to undertake such a task in any circumstance. A tight narrative about the experiences and history of the Lincolns could be plausible, if funding could be found. And so we began to consider such a project.
8) Why do you think this project is relevant nowadays? (as spanish myself I know it’s more relevant than ever but I’d love to know your opinion).
If you look at the retreat toward totalitarianism that is now evident in my own country as well as in Russia, Poland, Hungary and many other places were nationalism has become a rallying cry against pluralism, ethnic and religious minorities and the essential tolerance for dissent that is required of any democracy or republic, you understand that the history of the 20th Century is unfinished business still. Spain was indeed a dry run for a war between authoritarianism and democratic principle that is still being funded and fought by proxies all across the globe, and democracy, at this moment, is not winning. As it did not prevail in Spain. And of course the purchase of governance by unrestrained capital has only accelerated in my country and elsewhere. I do not regard capitalism itself as anything more than a tool to generate mass wealth; as that it has proven remarkably dexteritous, moreso than any example of state-run economic models. But it is an amoral tool. Untethered to greater goals as to how that wealth is shared within a society, or to the general health of the commonweal, it can be a source of anti-democratic initiative and vast human suffering. And worse, if it is allowed the opportunity to purchase the means of our self-governance, as has clearly happened in my country. The Spain of 1936-1939 is a microcosm for all of that and it stands as an example of what can happen if we don’t reconcile our governance to actually represent us in the most fundamental ways.


  • Dear David,
    I am so excited with your project about the Spanish Civil War. My grandad was a republican, a small business man in a tiny country town and losing the war REALLY shaped my family’s fate. The 4th generation now lives in Madrid a normal Life we couldn’t have for 80 years!
    Besides I have met lots of terrific American people here in Europe and I love the idea of American people who went the extra miles of fighting to defend helpless Spanish, like my mum, a little kid at war time or my own dad.
    It means a lot to me!!! Thanks so much.

    The Wire has been a favorite of mine and I have a so good opinión of your proffesional work. Your latest projects seem very appealing and I wish you the very best in getting the the money for carrying them on.

    I just have a question, do you have Jew ancenstry? I do have ashkenazi heritage and I have a sort of feeling about other people- maybe because in Spain we are almost non-existing.

    Do please forgive my contacting you in such a childish way and good luck with everything un the States.

    • All of ancestry is Eastern European or Russian Jewish. Paternal grandparents from what is now Belarus, maternal grandparents from what is now Slovakia.

  • I became great friends with Eddie Balchowsky, a Lincoln Brigader, in the late 80’s in Chicago. Fifty-some years after fighting in Spain, he taught me that the lean of his whole life was to fight fascism, including the fascist within one’s own self.

    The stories of the Americans who went to Spain are inspiring. I really hope you get to make the show.
    Thank you for your work.

  • Just stumbled upon your pages. Great stuff. Hope you can get the series on the International Brigade completed. I have a friend whose uncle was in the Lincoln Brigade. His name was Ralph Fasanella and he later became the painter laureate for New York City. And I always found it charming that Reagan identified with Robert Jordan from For Whom the Bell Tolls.

  • Just wondering. What will the format be? Network? Cable? One of those streaming companies that 95 percent of us have no access to, let alone have ever heard of? Can you give us a possible air date?

      • You may have to shake it like a salt shaker? And now with all of the new tweets about Franco and Spain and Catalonia, well maybe you have found the funding?

        PS I usually communicate to you via Twitter.

  • You mentioned the effort of spanish writers and filmmakers for such Project… will it be Real?
    Any chance to collaborate? Thanx

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