Documentaries Interviews Podcast

Interview: Alex Gibney on We Steal Secrets

Julian Assange in We Steal Secrets

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is the new documentary from director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Darkside, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God) and explores the organization started in 2006 by Julian Assange.

It then charts the various people involved in the leaking of secret information, including hackers, journalists and activists who during 2009-2010, leaked information about the the Icelandic financial collapseSwiss banks evading tax and toxic-waste dumping.

It then focuses on the case of Bradley Manning, the army private who leaked an enormous amount of classified information about the Afghan and Iraq wars, as well as over 250,000 diplomatic cables.

Since the film premiered at Sundance in January, Manning has pleaded guilty and could face the death penalty, some Wikileaks supporters have taken issue with the film and Assange remains holed up in diplomatic limbo at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Added to this, another leak of seismic proportions rocked the US government in early June when a new whistle-blower named Edward Snowden released details of PRISM, a top-secret global spying program of unprecedented scope and size.

At the time of writing, Snowden is in diplomatic limbo at Moscow airport, but although some of the events and issues raised in the film are ongoing, there was much to chew on when I spoke with Gibney at the end of June.

Have a listen to the interview here:

You can also download the podcast via iTunes or get the MP3 directly.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks opens in the UK on Friday 12th July

> Alex Gibney on Twitter and the IMDb
> Get local showtimes via Google Movies
> Find out more about Wikileaks and Edward Snowden at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews Thoughts

DVD: Mea Maxima Culpa – Silence in the House of God

Mea Maxima Culpa

A haunting and frequently shocking expose of child abuse in the Catholic Church, Alex Gibney’s latest film explores an insidious web of corruption and cover up.

Gibney has explored corruption in institutions before (e.g. Enron, the US military) and here he examines the story of four deaf men who were abused by priests in the 1960s before travelling higher up the church.

Interweaving it with other stories, a devastating portrait quickly emerges of a bankrupt institution that has not only shattered people’s lives, but actively sought to conceal wrongdoing at the highest levels.

Intriguingly, Pope Benedict XVI stood down in February around the UK theatrical release and in doing so he became the first Pope to resign in 600 years. Many have speculated that the abuse scandals (that this film partly explores) gave him a good reason to retire.

When he took over in 2005, he immediately had to deal with a situation that led to an explosion of abuse claims and law suits against the church and accusations that the Vatican was complicit in the cover up.

Although films such as Deliver Us From Evil (2006) have covered this subject by focusing on a single figure, Gibney’s film adopts an unusual approach in starting out with Father Lawrence Murphy abusing his pupils at the St John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

It then gradually follows the trail of abuse into the wider world, which included Tony Walsh, the notorious Irish priest who was also an Elvis personator, Father Marcial Maciel, who was ‘punished’ by being sent out to Florida, and on to the Vatican.

Perhaps worst of all is that the Church not only denied and covered-up many of the cases, it also delayed in punishing paedophile priests and even adopted the policy of posting them to other communities.

At one point there is the utterly surreal revelation that at one point the Vatican suggested putting all the offending priests on a dedicated island.

Despite the dark subject matter, this is an important historical work and has a interesting stylistic touch: whilst watching the deaf interviewees, we hear actors such as Chris Cooper and Ethan Hawke voice their words.

Although such a device may have sprung from necessity, it adds an extra layer to their testimony, literally giving them the voice they were denied as young boys.

There is also some remarkably powerful home video footage towards the end of the film as it comes full circle back to St John’s School for the Deaf.

An important document of a massive scandal, it is also a stark reminder of the emotional destruction wrought by a large, unaccountable institution.

> Buy the DVD at Amazon UK
> More on the film at the IMDb

Cinema Interviews Podcast

Interview: Alex Gibney on Gonzo

Gonzo UK poster

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is a new documentary directed by Alex Gibney.

It explores Hunter S. Thompson‘s life and times as well as his landmark writings on music and politics with contributions from the likes of Tom WolfeRalph Steadman and Jann Wenner.

It is narrated by Johnny Depp, who played Hunter in the 1998 film version of Fear and Loathing and Las Vegas.

I spoke with Alex about the film when it screened at the London Film Festival back in October and you can listen to it here:


Download it as a podcast via iTunes by clicking here.

Check out the trailer for the film here:


Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is out at selected UK cinemas now

Download this interview as an MP3 file
Get showtimes for the film via Google Movies 
> Gonzo and Alex Gibney at the IMDb
> Check out our review of Alex Gibney’s last film Taxi to the Darkside


Trailer: Gonzo – The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

This is the trailer for director Alex Gibney‘s new documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson:

It is out now in the US on limited release and opens in the UK on Friday 18th December

> Official site
> Reviews of Gonzo at Metacritic
> Find out more about Hunter S. Thompson at Metacritic

Documentaries News

Alex Gibney vs THINKFilm

The UK DVD of Taxi to the Darkside came in the post this morning (a full review of the disc will be up soon) but my eagerness to watch it was tempered somewhat by more news about the ongoing dispute between director Alex Gibney and THINKFilm, the US distributor of the film.

Basically, Gibney is extremely upset with THINKFilm about how they handled the US release of the film, especially in the wake of it winning the Best Documentary Oscar.

IndieWIRE report:

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney is seeking more than $1 million in damages from ThinkFilm, distributor of his recent Oscar-winning film, “Taxi to the Dark Side.”

Late last week X-Ray Productions, producers of Gibney’s film, charged that ThinkFilm fradulently hid the fact that it could not properly release the film in theaters, in a complaint filed with the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), the organization agreed upon by both sides to arbitrate any dispute.

Responding to Gibney’s claims and the request for arbitration, ThinkFilm president Mark Urman this weekend defended his company and its work on the film and sharply criticized Gibney.

Here is Gibney’s take:

“ThinkFilm did not disclose to us that the company did not have the financial ability to properly release the picture,” Gibney told indieWIRE via email this weekend, in the wake of recent reports of a financial crisis at ThinkFilm (see related indieWIRE article).

A copy of X-Ray’s complaint to the IFTA, reviewed by indieWIRE, seeks $1 million in damages, payment of legal fees, a termination of its agreement with ThinkFilm, and a return of the film’s distribution rights.

Charging that ThinkFilm didnt have the financial resources to properly exploit Gibney’s film, the X-Ray complaint contends that ThinkFilm buried the film after its Oscar win and, “jeopardized the success of the film by failing to abide by the terms of contracts it entered into with public relations firms and advisors and failed to pay such firms for work done and expenses incurred.”

The complaint charges “fraud and intentional and willful breaches of its marketing obligations under the distribution agreement.”

ThinkFilm president Mark Urman has responded:

“How ironic that a man who professes to care so much about the people who worked hard on his film would then inflict such insult and injury upon the blameless and tireless THINKFilm staff,” an angry Mark Urman from ThinkFilm countered to indieWIRE this weekend.

“And, how disappointing that a man who professes to be all about the cause, is now all about the money.”

“For the record,” Urman continued, “Even though he got everything he and his investors had coming to them, Mr. Gibney is seeking more money for himself, not for vendors who have yet to be paid. Meanwhile, THINK is completely in the red on this film.”

David Poland at The Hot Blog weighs up the different sides of the showdown:

Alex can blame Think for not spending enough money promoting the film after the win. He can argue that there was a bigger theatrical life for his film and that Think blew it.

But it would be a real feat to prove actionable negligence, unless he has some specific inside info that has not yet become public.

I would assume that this whole thing is simply a play by the very, very smart Mr. Gibney to get back the rights to his Oscar winning movie from a company he is disappointed with and who he fears, reasonably, might soon sell off his property to someone else.

And I would assume that Mark Urman, who has been pushed hard by Gibney and is under enormous pressure in a community that he has been a respected and hard-working member of for a long time, is slapping back at Gibney because he has just had it.

So, what we have here is a bit of a mess and something of a distraction from what is one of the best documentaries to come out in the last few years.

The last year has been a difficult time for movies about the war on terror and documentaries in general, so it is especially saddening to see a landmark film such as this get underexposed due to audience awareness (or lack of it) and rancour over US distribution.

For anyone still in doubt about the iniquity of the Bush adminstration‘s policy of torture, it is a devastating and eye opening exploration of how an innocent Afghan taxi driver was murdered by US troops and the political climate that led to such an event.

It was therefore disappointing to see that last week it opened at one cinema in the UK (the ICA in London) despite huge critical acclaim and an Oscar win behind it.

However, credit to Revolver for releasing the film here in the UK and unusually the DVD is being released very soon after the theatrical window.

One of the offshoots of the current problems at THINKfilm is that the official US website for the film is down – which is a problem if you do a Google search for ‘Taxi to the Dark Side’. (The 2nd result will inform you that ‘this website is currently unavailable‘).

Thankfully the UK site for the film is alive and kicking and features information, downloads and a link to Reprieve, an organisation that provides help to people denied justice by certain governments.

People sometimes ask me about the banner at the top of this site, e.g. what is the image? Is it an ad? At the moment it is usually an image (or images) from a current film I find notable.

Despite the recent dispute over it’s release, Taxi to the Darkside is not just a notable film but an essential one.

This is the trailer:

Check out this lengthy interview David Poland did with Alex Gibney a few months back in which they discuss the film and various related issues:

> Original IndieWIRE report
> Taxi to the Dark Side at the IMDb
> Listen to our recent review of Taxi to the Dark Side
> Read other reviews of the film at Metacritic
> If you are in or around London go see the film at the ICA
> Official site for the charity Reprieve
> Official UK site for Taxi to the Darkside (you can pre-order the DVD via Amazon UK)