A chat with Alex Gibney

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There’s no doubt that Alex Gibney is on a historic roll as a documentarian. Within only a few years, he’s been involved with probably the largest number of popular and influential documentaries of any single human being not named Michael Moore. Those works would include the outstanding “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and the equally strong, and Oscar winning, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about American use of torture in the “war on terror.” Gibney has also made his share of more historically themed documentaries, including “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.” He was also involved as a producer in two of the other most important and controversial documentaries of recent years, the Iraq-war expose, “No End in Sight” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

If Gibney’s past output is hugely impressive, however, his upcoming list of films is dizzying. At the recently wrapped Tribeca Film Festival in New York, he premiered as a “work in progress,” a new and apparently very revealing, look at former New York state governor, attorney general, and Wall Street watchdog Eliot Spitzer and the sex scandal that drove him from office. He also has a segment in the upcoming film version of the super-hot bestseller, Freakonomics, as well as new films about two very different cultural legends: bicyclist Lance Armstrong and author/super-hippie Ken Kesey of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Merry Pranksters fame.

There’s also the recently completed “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” and the film Gibney was promoting at his publicist’s L.A. office one recent afternoon, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” It’s a work of amazing journalistic detail that also works very hard to be lively and accessible.

Jack Abramoff is

 

Even if I felt that Gibney didn’t quite master that “accessible and lively” aspect too consistently this time around, his “Casino Jack” reviews so far have been great overall. He’s certainly a filmmaker to be reckoned with and one with an outstanding body of work behind him and much, much more to come. Not my idea of a lazy person.

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Who Killed the Electric Car?

With a share of General Motors running just a bit above the price of a single Hot Wheels car, this seems like an opportune time to catch-up with this surprisingly upbeat 2006 documentary covering perhaps the worst single piece of corporate strategy in business history. Directed by first-timer Chris Paine, with assists from big-time executive producer Dean Devlin and super-documentarian Alex Gibney, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” starts off as an earnest, L.A.-centric, paean to the efforts of activist drivers to fight GM’s very literal trashing of the all-electric EV-1 — launched in 1996 on a lease-only arrangement after California emissions rules forced auto companies to explore non-polluting vehicles. After spending time with such once-satisfied EV-1 customers as actors Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Peter Horton, Alexandra Paul, and comedienne Phyllis Diller, the film switches gears to becomes a far more interesting industrial whodunit, examining the corporate and the political forces that led to the car’s passive-aggressive treatment by GM.

Conservatives will likely be irked that the Bush Administration and the oil companies figure prominently as suspects, and will also note that the film is narrated by well-known lefty Martin Sheen. Nevertheless, Paine’s film takes a healthily bipartisan approach and includes neoconservatives James Woolsey and Franklin Gaffney making the national security case for electric autos. The very bad news is that the resistance of GM to its own best technology may have played a huge roll in the near destruction of the company and, along with it, the U.S. and world economy. On the other hand, the electric car may be due for a resurrection – director Chris Paine is working on a sequel.

Click to buy “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

  

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