This doc is more in stylistic keeping with Errol Morris' artful blend of aestheticized talking heads and visual accompaniments.

With: Mike Levin, Tom Blanton, Melissa Boyle Mahle, James B. Bruce, Barton Gellman, Steve Garfinkel, Patricia J. Herring, Wilson Brown, Siegfried Hecker, Steven Aftergood, Neal Kaytal, Charles Swift, Judy Loether.

No film will ever resolve the debate over the proper uses of and limits to government secrecy, and the filmmakers behind “Secrecy” are wise to not even try. Though co-director (with Harvard science history professor Peter Galison) Robb Moss’ previous film was the excellent “The Same River Twice,” new doc is more in stylistic keeping with Errol Morris’ artful blend of aestheticized talking heads and visual accompaniments. Topical enough for some buyer interest but not too tied to immediate issues, pic is likely to be a victim of the theatrical market downturn for docs and embraced by prestigious cablers.

Certain auds anticipating a harsh attack on the U.S state security apparatus may be surprised at pic’s early section, which helpfully reminds those who’ve forgotten their history that Pearl Harbor was a massive intelligence failure. Former CIA exec officer James B. Bruce notes that the U.S. needs intelligence tools to combat enemies, and that the uses of secrecy are fundamental to the tool kit.

Even more compelling is National Security Agency vet Mike Levin describing how a press leak of a secret channel between Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah prevented detection of the source that bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1982.

No two parties in the secrecy debate are more at odds than spy mavens like Levin and investigative reporters like the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, who filed some of the first stories stating that there were no WMDs in Iraq, contradicting White House claims at the time. These two sides demonstrate how a society based on freedom of information will always struggle with the opposite need for secrecy.

More useful for auds is hearing from a CIA case officer like Melissa Boyle Mahle, who argues for the needs for secrets in intelligence operations (“journalists treat secrecy as a game, but intelligence officers treat it as a matter of survival”), but relates the human cost of being a spy and how secrecy carries a price for family relations.

After hearing Mahle or Army Lt. Gen. Charles Swift talk about the abuses of intelligence at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, where habeas corpus is suspended by executive order, it becomes apparent that a new shame over the excessive uses of secrecy is clearly being felt by today’s military vets.

One of pic’s most potent messages, however, is that the enhanced secrecy systems, which deter information from being shared, likely helped the 9/11 attack to go undetected.

Pic is layered with all types of visual decoration to make the torrent of discussion play cinematically, and, though the device is now a familiar one, certain touches such as B&W animation lend a creepy and effective mood, while lensing of conceptual artwork on the theme of secrecy is merely a visual appendage. Chyld King’s assured editing is critical to maintaining aud interest, and John Kusiak’s minimalist score is used to keep the flow going.

Popular on Variety


Production: A Redacted Pictures production. (International sales: Submarine Entertainment, New York.) Produced by Peter Galison, Robb Moss. Co-producer, Chyld King. Co-executive producers, Diana Barrett, Emily Pottruck, David Pottruck, The Kevin & Donna Gruneich Foundation, Jim Swartz, Susan Swartz. Directed by Peter Galison, Robb Moss.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DV), Austin de Besche, Stephen McCarthy; editor, Chyld King; music, John Kusiak; production designer, Elaine J. McCarthy ; sound (Dolby Digital), Mario Cardenas; supervising sound editor, Coll Anderson; sound re-recording mixer, Anderson; animation, Ruth Lingford, Lisa Haber-Thomson, Tim Szetela; artworks, Mark Hansen, Jenny Holzer, Ben Rubin, Jim Sanborn; archival research, Rich Remsberg; associate producers, Caitlin Boyle, Emily Jansen, Ann S. Kim, Beth Sternheimer, Tricia Wilk. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 19, 2008. Running time: 86 MIN.

With: With: Mike Levin, Tom Blanton, Melissa Boyle Mahle, James B. Bruce, Barton Gellman, Steve Garfinkel, Patricia J. Herring, Wilson Brown, Siegfried Hecker, Steven Aftergood, Neal Kaytal, Charles Swift, Judy Loether.

More Film

  • Banijay Rights Signs First Look Deal

    Banijay Rights Signs First Look Deal with Tigerlily Prods.

    Seeking to expand its scripted offering, Banijay Rights has signed a first look development deal with Tigerlily Productions, a U.K. production company whose credits include David Farr’s “The Ones Below” and “Remainder” with Tom Sturridge. The deal covers scripted programming developed, created and produced by Tigerlily for the U.K. and international markets. Tigerlily Productions, which [...]

  • Blanco-en-Blanco

    Stray Dogs Picks Up Int’l Sales Rights to Venice-bound ‘Blanco en Blanco’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SANTIAGO, Chile – In the run-up to the upcoming 76th Venice Int’l Film Festival, Paris-based Stray Dogs has closed international sales rights on Chilean drama “Blanco en Blanco,” which holds its world premiere in the festival’s Horizons sidebar. Filmed last year in the frigid tundra of Chile’s Tierra de Fuego and Spain’s tropical Canary Islands, [...]

  • Gerard Butler Angel Has Fallen

    Film Review: 'Angel Has Fallen'

    “Angel Has Fallen” marks the third time that Gerard Butler, as the Secret Service agent and scowling samurai cowboy Mike Banning, has had to rescue the President of the United States from an international conspiracy so cuckoo bananas that the movie barely expects you to believe it. (Actually, in the six years since this series [...]

  • Jessica

    Ninja Thyberg's Female POV Porn Industry Portrait Seduces Buyers (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  Paris-based Versatile has announced a raft of pre-sales on Ninja Thyberg’s debut feature “Jessica,” set in the adult entertainment industry in L.A. World distributors that have pre-bought the Swedish drama take in Weltkino for Germany/Austria, Xenix for Switzerland, MK2/Mile End for Canada, KTH for South Korea and Movie Could for Taïwan. Several [...]

  • Sony Pictures: 'We Are Disappointed' by

    Sony 'Disappointed' by Disney's Divorce on 'Spider-Man' Projects

    Sony Pictures has gone public over its divorce with Disney on future “Spider-Man” projects. In a rare public rebuke to Disney, Sony announced Tuesday night that it was “disappointed” over the decision, highlighting Disney’s refusal to allow Marvel President Kevin Feige to continue as a producer on the projects. It also praised Feige, who teamed [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    ‘Good Boys’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Universal Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Good Boys.” Ads placed for the comedy had an estimated media value of $4.42 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Demi Lovato

    Demi Lovato Joins Netflix Comedy 'Eurovision'

    Demi Lovato has joined the upcoming Netflix comedy film “Eurovision.” Will Ferrell, who co-wrote the film with Andrew Steele, announced the news Tuesday with an Instagram post, in which he wished Lovato a happy birthday with a “homemade” cake. Following the announcement, Lovato can be seen blowing out candles on the cake next to a “Eurovision” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content