His documentaries have exposed Henry Kissinger’s alleged war crimes, Kenneth Lay’s plundering and the abuse of terror suspects at the hands of U.S. interrogators. He’s currently working to further uncover the corruption of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
And going forward, he hopes to find a collaborative way to shine the light on another obscured subject: the feature documentary itself.
“We need to develop a forum so that people can watch wildly different stuff,” explains Alex Gibney, whose prisoner-abuse expose “Taxi to the Dark Side” won this year’s Oscar for documentary feature. (Another doc he exec produced, the Iraq war-themed “No End in Sight,” was also nominated.)
According to Gibney, the U.S. is sorely lacking a solid, go-to distribution platform for personally crafted, quality documentary storytelling, both for television and theater.
Sure, cable TV in the U.S. offers plenty of opportunities for producers of nonfiction fare, but outside of HBO and PBS, trying to find a forum “that isn’t tied to the branding of the network is very difficult,” explains Gibney, who isn’t looking to contribute to “Shark Week” anytime soon.
“If you flick through Discovery or the History Channel or A&E,” he says, “they all have a brand, and they make the programs they do conform to that brand. There’s not much choice for the filmmaker — you’re another link in the sausage chain.”
Meanwhile, theatrical exhibition for independently budgeted niche movies is an even harder proposition. Only three docs — Michael Moore’s high-profile “Sicko” included — earned more than $1 million at the domestic box office last year.
The answer? Gibney — who has long courted European TV investment channels and was to deliver the keynote at Mip’s international documentary showcase, Mipdoc, on April 6 — says he’s working with colleagues including Moore to figure that out.
“We had this idea of a Monday night doc night at the multiplex,” says Gibney, who has also pondered the docu-forum possibilities of Netflix as well as the Internet. “There does seem to be a renaissance in the indie documentary forum, but it’s very tricky to make it work in the marketplace. I think there’s a lot of appetite — someone just needs to figure out a mechanism.”
For its part, Gibney says the Oscar race — besides offering prestige to the docmakers who run in it — does provide a unique forum to showcase a select number of films that might otherwise remain unknown to the broader audience.
“At least it’s one list people pay attention to that pulls some documentaries out of the maddening crowd,” he says.