Alex Gibney in Conversation With Robert Scheer
Posted on Feb 24, 2008
Scheer: You know what I was thinking is, why your film is not being discussed in the presidential debate. If you think about it, the whole image of the United States has been tarnished, maybe like it’s never been before, by this torture. ... And here we have a campaign going on, a presidential campaign, and here it sounds like only a marginal issue.
Gibney: I don’t understand it either. At its fundamental ... there are two things that are fundamental about this film. One is, it’s about how you fight the war on terror, and how badly it’s being fought now. It’s also, it’s about corruption of the rule of law, which is so essential to who we are and who we want to be, I think. ...
Scheer: Which, by the way, is what the war on terror is supposed to be all about ...
Gibney: That’s right.
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Gibney: That’s right.
Scheer: But on your first point, about how we fight the war on terror, what your movie shows is really how we get bad information?
Gibney: That’s right.
Scheer: This is really an exercise about not being alert to the truth about how you are attacking, why you are attacking. It’s getting information that will support your president’s exploitation of 9/11.
Gibney: Ultimately, torture can be a political tool. That’s where it’s been most dangerous. When you start to get the information you want to hear because you’re coercing people, then it’s undergirding your policies ... not only that it’s covering up your mistakes. You think you got the wrong guy? You know you got the wrong guy? Oh, my God! Torture him until he’ll confess. Then he’s no longer the wrong guy. Now he’s the right guy. He’s one of the worst of the worst.
Scheer: Let me ask you a question. You’re a producer for one film that’s up for an Academy Award this Sunday night, and you’re a director for another. You’re up against Michael Moore. There’s some competition here. You have to give Michael Moore credit for opening up the documentary field, don’t you?
Gibney: I give Michael Moore credit. I had dinner with him last night. I give him tremendous credit for opening up the field. He created the sense that documentaries can be commercial. My film about Enron was a big commercial success. And my documentary on Enron gave me freedom; it allowed me to say it the way I wanted to say it because it was entertaining enough that it could be commercially viable. It’s been great. And Michael’s done other terrific stuff. He has a film festival, the Traverse City [Mich.] Film Festival. A couple of my films have been shown there. Interesting crowds; not all Democrats—Republicans. ... There’s a sense of possibility that these documentaries, as they get to be more and more entertaining but also more informative, give people stuff that they normally don’t get in the TV media, at the very least. People are starting to get interested. So Michael, I think, has done a tremendously good job of being a kind of blocking back for the rest of us who follow through the lines.
Scheer: So even though you guys are going for the big prize here—I mean, it’s very important to be nominated for an Academy Award. It will help your film, help your career in the best way, you’d be able to make other good movies. But winning the Academy Award is a pretty big deal. You already were nominated for an Academy Award?
Gibney: I lost to the penguins [“March of the Penguins”] last time. It would be nice to win this time.
Scheer: But you guys—.
Gibney: But at the same time, Michael did a nice thing last night. He took all of us out to dinner. All five of the nominees sat down and broke bread. It was great. And so there’s a pretty collegial spirit. But because Michael’s a celebrity, they’re seating him separately from the rest of us [at the awards show]. That didn’t go down too well with us. But I think everything else about it feels pretty collegial. We’ll see who wins, but at this point being nominated is to be in a pretty good group.
Scheer: And since the voting has already taken place, what did you think about the other documentaries?
Gibney: I liked them. ... I liked them all. They were different, and it was intriguing for me. I voted because I’m a member of the academy. And I can tell you I voted for myself. But the other ones were good.
Scheer: By the way, I don’t mind being on record saying that from the ones I’ve seen, yours is the most important. Not just because of the subject being the most important, but you deal with it, as you said before, in a way that makes it accessible. If it was a dreary project, crying-type movie, which it could be—.
Gibney: It’s kind of like a detective story: You follow the murder.
Scheer: You humanize the torturers as well as the tortured. That’s what I felt was absolutely compelling about this documentary, and I’m encouraging people if they haven’t seen it to try to get to see it. I remember in the old days, when I used to go to Academy Award things, I remember seeing “Panama” and it took me two months to get a copy of it.
Gibney: “Panama Deception”?
Scheer: Yeah. To actually see it. At that time, you made a documentary and nobody saw it. At this time, people are seeing them.
Gibney: People are seeing them.
Scheer: Your film got a bigger distribution because you won a film festival, right?
Gibney: Right. I won the Tribeca Film Festival [in 2007]. Out of Tribeca, a distributor picked it up. It’s available in theaters. Hopefully, if it wins an Oscar, more theaters will open it up. HBO will show it.
Scheer: What about the formula Robert Greenwald used, where he had MoveOn distribute the film, the DVD?
Gibney: MoveOn, he had them do these things, I can’t remember what they’re called, these little groups.
Scheer: Well, how about sending it out through Truthdig? Win or lose, we’ll make an offer.
Gibney: Maybe ... maybe ... maybe that’s what we should do ... OK. People see it right now: the beginning of a conspiracy.
Scheer: All right, Alex. Thanks for bringing us to the cesspool and having us look deep down into it.
Gibney: Looking right down to the bottom. My specialty: films that will make you sick. [Laughter]
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