Alex Gibney

Web Junkie Q&A

As someone who takes pride in conducting critical interviews with filmmakers, the differences between that art form and the film festival Q&A are difficult to adjust to. I’m moderating a handful of the latter here at Sheffield Doc/Fest, and I’m fairly new to the experience on that side of the stage. My third day was comprised primarily of three screenings for which I had the honor to introduce and then host a conversation with the directors and, in one instance, an additional special guest. The key is that it’s a hosting duty. I’m there to emcee, not dig in, and it’s more for the audience than for myself. The thing is, an interview on this site should technically be for the audience, as well. And it is, but not in an interactive sense. However, I wondered if perhaps my preferred interests in documentary form and meaning and ethics aren’t what readers prefer. At film festivals, the audience wants to know very briefly about the making of the movie, usually just the basics of how the project came into being and why. Then it’s typically about the content. You’ve got those who want to know more about the subject matter that isn’t in the film, those who want to know where the characters are now, those who want to share their own relevant (and often irrelevant) stories, those who are already knowledgeable or familiar with the topics or people the film is about and who want to discuss further with more authority than […]

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death row stories cnn

Yesterday, Landon wrote about how serial television, particularly miniseries and ongoing shows working with closed season-long narratives and involving the prestigious talent of great film directors, are providing us with the best “movies” of today. The focus, once again, is on the current new “golden age” of TV, which for the most part has been limited to fiction programming. But what about nonfiction? Unfortunately, that other side of the small screen has remained for the most part in the rut of lowbrow and cookie cutter reality shows with few traditional exceptions here and there. This year could see nonfiction television joining its counterpart, though, as some are pointing out that 2014 is already filling up with highly anticipated new documentary series from prominent filmmakers and other major personalities. It’s in some of these shows that you’ll find the true true detectives in the new era of quality television. This Sunday night brings the premieres of two of these docu-series: Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, on Fox, and Death Row Stories, on CNN. The former is a 13-part sequel to the popular 1980 PBS miniseries Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which starred Carl Sagan and provided a sort of layman’s guide to everything then known about the universe. Sagan, who was the celebrity astrophysicist of the time and who passed away in 1996, has been replaced with host Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is now the celebrity astrophysicist of our time. The goal is for something even more mainstream in its presentation of scientific concepts, and the prominent filmmaker […]

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armstrong

Are you one of those people who walked around for years wearing one of those yellow bracelets after cyclist Lance Armstrong came back from cancer to win a jillion Tour de Frances, only to feel duped once the truth came out that he was a great big steroid monster the whole time and had been lying to everyone’s faces about it? Then probably you’re looking for an explanation from the smug jerk, and Alex Gibney’s new documentary, The Armstrong Lie, is at least giving off the impression that it has one. Gibney is the guy who brought us a handful of other newsworthy docs covering current events, like Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, and the story here seems to be that Gibney initially started following around Armstrong to do a doc about his big comeback to racing, but once all of the allegations about Armstrong doping came out and those allegations slowly turned into admissions, the focus of the documentary then had to change. After years of lying to his cameras, Armstrong eventually got cornered in another interview by Gibney and asked why he’s such a great big liar. Click through to check out the tease of said interview.

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It should come as little surprise that, in the wake of Bradley Manning being found guilty on charges that could add up to over a hundred years in military prison, filmmaker Alex Gibney is ahead of the curve on developing a feature film. According to Variety, the Oscar-winning director is following up We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks with a movie focused on the other side of the Wikileaks coin. He and producing partner Marc Shmuger have been developing it since gaining the rights to Denver Nicks’ “Private: Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Biggest Exposure of Official Secrets in American History” last year. The pair are looking for a screenwriter. In the meantime, filmmakers are all over Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Beyond Gibney’s documentary, there’s also Bill Condon’s Fifth Estate and a forthcoming potential work from Mark Boal based on the extensive investigation done by the New York Times’ Bill Heller (who was pranked last year when Wikileaks faked a supportive article, pretending it was written by the columnist). Plus, who knows what Aaron Sorkin and The Newsroom will do with all of this. Stranger than fiction, we’re getting our current events parroted back to us with fervency. It’s still unclear whether that’s a good thing, but at least some of the best storytellers in the business are the ones taking the tasks.

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We Steal Secrets

At this point, Alex Gibney — the Oscar-winning documentary director behind Taxi to the Dark Side and many more — seems like the only man that can get inside the politically inflammatory world of current events. It’s like if Errol Morris had made Fog of War while Vietnam was still going on. This subject matter is volatile, immediate and directly impacts our lives. So if the first goal of a documentary is to find a compelling focus, it’s clear he’s done that again with We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks. Chronicling the inside world of Julian Assange‘s website, Gibney digs into the largest security breach in United States history — facilitated by Private First Class Bradley Manning — as well as the evasive rock star life of Wikileak’s founder, the concept of controlling information in the digital age and what that means for world powers. Check out the gripping trailer for yourself:

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last_gladiators_01

The popularity of sports documentaries is not recognized enough. Maybe it’s because a lot of the favorites find their audience on TV, particularly as part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series. Perhaps they aren’t considered “important” enough by the documentary community, even when they deal with serious issues as in the case of Steve James’s most recent and most overlooked film, Head Games. Like music docs, they may be disregarded as insignificant fare mainly targeted to a particular fanbase. But with many sports, that’s a very large fanbase we’re talking about. Professional ice hockey is the least followed of the four major team sports in America, but millions of people do watch it, and the number has been on the rise these past few years. So, there’s definitely a large demographic who’ll be interested in Alex Gibney’s The Last Gladiators, a documentary about NHL enforcers with a predominant focus on former Montreal Canadiens “goon” Chris “Knuckles” Nilan. This is a demo that likely won’t know or even think about the fact that this film was made by a tremendously prolific and highly acclaimed director. Many of them would sooner see this than Gibney’s other new docs, which tackle sexually abusive priests and the story of Wikileaks, and they very well might have seen his baseball doc, Catching Hell, but not his Oscar-winning doc, Taxi to the Dark Side.

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Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

Alex Gibney has relayed shocking stories about the US torture regime and the fall of Enron, but with Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, he turns his documentary cameras on a massive cover up within the walls of the Catholic Church. Obviously a highly charged subject, the movie focuses on the first known protest against clerical sexual abuse stemming from a priest who molested hundreds of deaf children over a span of several decades. It was one of our 12 Best Docs of 2012, and with its release on HBO this coming Monday (February 4th, 9pm ET/11pm PT), it’s a good time to take a look at the trailer for a movie that’s undoubtedly difficult to watch:

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Zero-Dark-Thirty

As dissent continues to flourish in this country, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that discordant responses to films is also on the rise. Divisiveness has always been one thing among film critics, with publications throughout the past decade loving to showcase opposing views of everything from Dancer in the Dark to Tree of Life. But it’s another thing for broader American society to not only disagree with one another but to really go at each other over a certain motion picture or movies overall. This is the year that a right-wing political documentary (2016: Obama’s America) outgrossed all but one of Michael Moore’s films, including the gun violence issue doc Bowling for Columbine. It’s also a year, now, when the notion that violent films may have an impact on gun violence more than guns themselves is being spouted by everyone from NRA leaders to actor Jamie Foxx. Does that make Foxx’s new movie, Django Unchained, one of the most dangerous films of 2012? It depends on whether or not you agree with that idea of films and video games being so influential. Also depending on your side of a debate, you might agree with those calling Zero Dark Thirty “dangerous,” as Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side; My Trip to Al-Qaeda) has now done. I haven’t seen the film yet, so I can’t offer any real opinion on the torture scenes provoking discussion, but here’s what Gibney has to say about it in a lengthy article he wrote […]

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Fantastic Fest

What is Movie News After Dark? After a few days of not posting, who even knows anymore. As many of you have seen, this week began Fantastic Fest. And as I’ve done every year without learning any important lessons or growing as a person, I made the mistake of thinking I could take on the first few days of Fantastic Fest and publish a few entries into the Movie News After Dark series. Several alcoholic beverages, seven films and a half-bottle of ibuprofen later and I’m once again in a position to learn a powerful lesson about overcommitment (I won’t). Fear not though, good friends and beloved readers, as Movie News After Dark has a hero. He just doesn’t start until Monday.

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Last week the programmers for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival introduced the main course of this year’s festival lineup, fifty-three films from all over the world, big and small, about any number of subjects. The list was so impressive I ran out and booked a hotel room. So, now that I’m financially locked in to heading up to the city of David Cronenberg and that rapper who called himself SNOW, I’ll be following future announcements by the festival pretty closely. Today brought a big one. Adding to their initial lineup of films, TIFF has added a bunch of documentary works by fairly large documentary filmmakers and a bunch of genre works from fairly deranged genre filmmakers. First let’s take a look at some of the docs. Thom Powers is the lead programmer for documentaries, and about this year’s lineup he said, “I’m thrilled at the large number of veteran filmmakers who have brought us new works this year. The line-up contains a wide range of memorable characters – crusaders, convicts, artists, athletes, nude dancers, comic book fans, dog lovers and more. Not to mention the epic 15-hour Story of Film. These documentaries will have audiences discussing and debating for months to come.” I don’t think I’ll have time for that fifteen hour one, I’ve only got five days in the city, but the one about nude dancers is definitely on my docket.

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Culture Warrior

Last week, as I watched Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, I noticed that the trailers on the rental Blu-Ray were all of titles sharing space at the top of my queue: titles like Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, Kim Ji-woon’s I Saw the Devil, and Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun. All, I quickly realized, had been released by the same studio, Magnet Releasing, whose label I recalled first noticing in front of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. After some quick Internet searching, I quickly realized what I should have known initially, that Magnet was a subsidiary of indie distributor Magnolia Pictures. The practices of “indie” subsidiaries of studios has become commonplace. That majors like Universal and 20th Century Fox carry specialty labels Focus Features and Fox Searchlight which market to discerning audiences irrespective of whether or not the individual titles released are independently financed or studio-produced has become a defining practice for limited release titles and has, perhaps more than any other factor, obscured the meaning of the term “independent film” (Sony Pictures Classics, which only distributes existing films, is perhaps the only subsidiary arm of a major studio whose releases are actually independent of the system itself). This fact is simply one that has been accepted for quite some time in the narrative of small-scale American (or imported) filmmaking. Especially in the case of Fox Searchlight, whose opening banner distinguishes itself from the major in variation on name only, subsidiaries of the majors can hardly even be argued as “tricking” audiences into […]

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Since it’s Friday and we’re not expecting a rambunctious news wire, we’re happy to focus on other things that might be of interest to our astute readers. Such as Alex Gibney and Allison Ellwood’s Magic Trip, a documentary about One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey and his wondrous, drug-fueled trip in 1964. Check out the clip for yourself after the jump and decide if you’d like to go on this fantastical journey. You probably will.

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Culture Warrior

With the release of Pixar’s Up, last year saw a great deal of conversation surrounding the ghettoization of animated movies at major awards shows. This debate resulted in something of a minor, qualified victory for animated cinema of 2009, as Up was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture since Beauty and the Beast, but then again it sat amongst a crowded bevy of nine fellow nominations, and animated films remain unthreatening to their live action competitors because of the separate-but-unequal Best Animated Feature Category. I’d like to take this space to advocate for the big-category acceptance of yet another marginalized and underappreciated category around awards time: non-fiction films.

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Reading “Freakonomics” was sort of a badge of honor for presumably independent-thinking business school students back in college, but its effect cannot be overstated. It was part of the non-fiction revolution taking a deeper look into the world that we live in from a younger generation that refused to wear tweed jackets or talk quietly in class. A generation more pop-cultured than cultured. It makes sense that in adapting the best-selling book into a film, the younger generation of well-known documentary filmmakers would be asked to add their own true story about connectivity to the mix.

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Explore the mind of a man who would defraud the Native Americans, help keep sweatshops open and cuddle up nice and close to politicians while showing how his actions played a role in the collapse of the housing market.

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For our final Tribeca review, we look at the disappointing ‘Freakonomics,’ which was the fest’s closing night feature.

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Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson was an obnoxious asshole who shot himself in the head a few years ago. Apparently in today’s world that’s enough to warrant a documentary be made about you.

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AFI Dallas Film Festival

It’s an hour and a half from McKinney to Dallas. It consists of a half hour straight shot towards the heart of the Big D followed by an hour of twisting concrete that go back and forth, over and under, on top and underneath each other in order to squeeze every square inch of land into driving space for the daily commuters.

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Alex Gibney’s amazing documentary has me upset… It makes me feel uncultured.

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