EXCLUSIVE: Behind the Scenes with Alex Gibney at His Jigsaw Productions

Interviews
by John Anderson
November 6, 2013 2:13 PM
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Alex Gibney in "The Armstrong Lie."

Today’s documentary world seems to be living through the Age of Gibney: Having directed 20 nonfiction projects over the last eight years, with one Oscar under his belt and two films in contention, Alex Gibney is the hardest working man in socially progressive show business.

How? Why? And where?

Way out west, it turns out -- where Manhattan meets the Hudson, and the hurricane of last year left fewer changes than two decades of gentrification. When Alex Gibney came here 15 years ago, it was the home of ball-bearing factories, transvestite hookers and an assortment of dubious characters. Today? Well, the ball bearings are certainly gone.

Instead, here’s a beehive of film production offices which Gibney oversees like the pope. In fact, in his office, with its panoramic view of the river, there’s a hilarious mock-up of a recent pontiff, in white and gold, with Gibney’s beatific face peering out from under the miter. His hand is outstretched in blessing. The wedding ring is a nice touch.

Lance Armstrong in 'The Armstrong Lie'

To call Jigsaw the Vatican of documentaries would be an overstatement. To say there are 18 projects under way at any one time might just be an understatement. Gibney is renowned as the most prolific doc maker at work today – and there are, as he’s the first to admit, a lot of people making that happen.

Still, it’s not just productivity but prescient subject matter that marks Gibney’s work as a director. His Lance Armstrong portrait “The Armstrong Lie” opens Friday; “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” was released in July. Both are among a competitive pack of 2013 Oscar contenders. 

Last year, Gibney directed “Park Avenue: Money Power & the American Dream,” which created a stink when it was revealed that WNET offered to preview the film for one of its subjects – billionaire right-wing puppetmaster David Koch. Also in 2012, Gibney contributed to the anti-fracking film “Dear Governor Cuomo” and directed one of his angriest and most angering films, “Mea Maxima Culpa,” about priestly pedophilia. In 2011, he indulged his inner sports nut with “The Last Gladiator,” about hockey goons, and “Catching Hell,” about the famous case of fan interference at a Cubs game.

The same year saw “Magic Trip,” his reconstruction of the Merry Pranksters 1966 bus tour with Ken Kesey. In 2010, it was “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”; a section of the omnibus “Freakonomics”; “My Trip to Al Qaeda” and “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” Plus he’s producing.

Also, BTW, he won the Oscar in 2007 for “Taxi to the Dark Side,” joined the Academy and now reps the Doc branch on the Board of Governors. 

Obviously, it’s not just output that distinguishes Gibney and Jigsaw, it’s timeliness. The films seem to come out at the right time, on the right subjects. Which is explained not by luck or ESP, but persistence.

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