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‘The Pigeon Tunnel’ heads for its Telluride World Premiere

As Seen In Deadline - 30 August 2023

Published: 31 Aug 2023

EXCLUSIVE: Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris is heading to the Telluride Film Festival for the world premiere of his new documentary The Pigeon Tunnel, a gripping portrait of the spy-turned-novelist David Cornwell, better known as John le Carré.

The Telluride lineup was announced just minutes ago, but you don’t have to wait for touch down in the Rockies to catch a glimpse of the film. We have your first look at it here, exclusively, in the trailer for the Apple TV+ documentary. The film is set to premiere on the streaming platform on October 20.

The film (and the trailer) begins with an interchange between Morris and Cornwell that offers insight into the author’s keen process of evaluating friend or foe, an essential quality for a man who worked in MI5 — the U.K.’s domestic counter-intelligence agency — and MI6 — the U.K.’s foreign intelligence agency.

“You asked me about the nature of our relationship,” Morris notes in the trailer. Cornwell replies, “I needed to know who I was talking to. Were you my friend across the fire? Who are you?”

The documentary is adapted from John le Carré’s memoir The Pigeon Tunnel, published in 2016 (the title has to do with Cornwell, as a child, witnessing a pigeon hunt). The writer, born David John Moore Cornwell in 1931, became one of the world’s best-selling espionage novelists after his time directly engaged in the spy craft. Many of his books, including Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyThe Spy Who Came in from the ColdRussia HouseThe Tailor of PanamaThe Constant Gardener, and The Night Manager, have been adapted into films and television series. Alec Guinness, Gary Oldman, and Denholm Elliott are among the stars who have portrayed le Carré’s most famous character, British intelligence officer George Smiley.

Two of Cornwell’s sons – Simon and Stephen – serve as producers on the film. In a brief essay about the documentary, Simon, Stephen, and fellow brother Nicholas Cornwell describe the tête-à-tête between director and subject – or perhaps what should be called a tête-à-Interretron, a teleprompter-like device invented by the filmmaker that allows him to interact with an interviewee through a camera (the person being interviewed sees the interviewer’s face, instead of the lens). The interview was filmed at Cornwell’s country estate Wrotham Park in 2019, a year before the author’s death at the age of 89.

The Pigeon Tunnel is written and directed by Errol Morris. The producers are Morris, Dominic Crossley-Holland, Steven Hathaway, Simon Cornwell and Stephen Cornwell. The executive producers are Hossein Amini, P.J. van Sandwijk, Michael Lesslie, Joe Tsai, Arthur Wang, Michele Wolkoff, and Katherine Butler.

Philip Glass, a longtime collaborator of Morris, is the film’s composer, along with Paul Leonard-Morgan. After Telluride, The Pigeon Tunnel will head to the Toronto International Film Festival for its international premiere on Monday, September 11.