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Alex Gibney, Filmmaker to the Dark Side

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Gibney’s latest movie details the story of WikiLeaks’ flashy founder Julian Assange and the leaked classified national security information that has brought the wrath of the federal government on alleged leaker Bradley Manning, above.

“One of the great tragedies of this story is that for a brief moment, WikiLeaks could have formed an alliance with mainstream journalism. But that blew up,” Gibney said, when Assange’s legal troubles became conflated with what WikiLeaks was doing journalistically.

Still, the debate about how journalists deal with classified information is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

In the movie, former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who resigned his post after making critical remarks about how the military was handling Manning, said the government’s posture toward sensitive information since 9/11 has gone from “need to know to need to share.” And this will mean that more information than ever will be classified, and subsequently reported on.

A Golden Age

Gibney’s career has come at a time when documentaries have more outlets than ever, and more kinds of documentaries are accepted by audiences.

“The ancient rules about what you could and couldn’t do [have been] exploded,” he told CQ Roll Call. He sees his own projects as “a combination of personal voice and fact-gathering.”

He believes this plays out not just in his own films, but in other recent works such as Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” Ari Folman’s “Waltz With Bashir,” Dror Moreh’s “The Gatekeepers” and Rick Rowley’s “Dirty Wars.”

“I think the documentary has come into its own as an art form,” he said.

To be sure, he traces his influences to older favorites, such as “Gimme Shelter,” by Albert and David Maysles, the documentary of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour that included a concert at Altamont Speedway in California that went sideways after the Hell’s Angels were put in charge of security and beat up and killed a spectator.

And one of those older films still resonates with Gibney, Alain Resnais’ 1955 “Night and Fog,” a 32-minute exploration of the Nazis’ death camps and the Final Solution. “It’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant,” he said.

‘Like Picking a Child’

When asked what his favorite film was from his own work, which consists of more than 20 titles for theatrical and television release, Gibney hesitated.

“That’s a tough one for me. Like picking a child,” he said, before adding that “Taxi to the Dark Side,” for which he won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2008, comes pretty close.

“The one that’s most personal to me is ‘Taxi to the Dark Side.’ My father’s in it, and he died during the making of it,” Gibney said. His father, Frank Gibney, was an interrogator for the Navy during World War II. At the time of filming, the elder Gibney was on his death bed. But he wanted to go on the record for his son’s movie about his disgust with U.S. torture practices. He died before the movie was completed.

At the Academy Awards Ceremony on Feb. 24, 2008, Gibney dedicated the Oscar win to Dilawar, the Afghan taxi driver whose ordeal and fate provided the story for the film. Dilawar was taken prisoner in Afghanistan as a suspected terrorist in the early years of the war. He was taken to the military’s base at Bagram and tortured and eventually died, even though he was innocent.

Light Touches
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