Accessing the power of documentaries


Cannes, France: Alex Gibney, the writer/ director/ producer of the devastating documentary film, Taxi To The Dark Side nominated for an Academy Award this year, said at Sunday’s MIPDOC keynote that controversial and political films can harness emotional power with scenes that “sit in people’s minds in ways the printed word can never do. Films have to have power, they need to resonate with you’.

Gibney as the producer of hard-hitting documentaries such as Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room and Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Hunter S Thompson was well qualified to provide his insights on the conference session topic dedicated to The Power Of Documentary.

His latest film Taxi To The Dark Side (screened at a special screening in Cape Town recently) explores the systematic use of torture through life and death of an innocent Iraqi taxi driver. His approach to controversial material is “to show both the forest and the trees. I try to get inside people and show how they fit into a larger framework’.

Questioned on his methodology, he explained that his documentaries usually took, from start to finish, just over a year to make. To reach the core elements of his film, he will sift through hours of court proceedings or congressional meetings in search of the dramatic moments. “We found unbelievable photos for Taxi. It’s amazing what a couple of photographs will do for these films. Often putting my films together means a series of talking heads but also they include documented evidence. One can make an intellect argument very entertaining.’

* Screen Africa’s May issue will carry a full report on Alex Gibney’s views on the making of powerful documentaries.


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