Unless your name is Michael Moore, making documentaries is a tricky, risky business. The average project requires years of reporting, filming and editing, often on a shoestring budget, and faces long odds of ever finding its way into theaters--where audiences for such movies are dwindling anyway.
Then there's the curious case of Alex Gibney. The 56-year-old UCLA film-school grad, who won an Academy Award for 2007's Taxi to the Dark Side, has no fewer than four new features hitting screens this year. The most provocative is an as yet untitled Eliot Spitzer documentary, which charts the former New York governor's meteoric rise and scandalous fall and quickly became the hottest ticket at the Tribeca Film Festival. Also on Gibney's slate are a chapter in the multidirector adaptation of Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt's book Freakonomics, opening this fall, and My Trip to Al-Qaeda, a big-screen rendering of Lawrence Wright's one-man play based on his 9/11 history The Looming Tower, coming to HBO later this year. A long-in-the-works profile of jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, opened in select theaters May 7.
Gibney says the pileup is less about being prolific--which he is--than it is "just a matter of timing." The director was so determined to talk to Abramoff in person that Casino Jack arrived in theaters a year and a half later than planned; it was frozen in production as Gibney embarked on his Spitzer investigation and traveled to Japan to produce a segment on corruption in sumo wrestling for Freakonomics. Still, Gibney says Abramoff's cautionary tale of influence peddling in Washington could not be timelier: "We just went through this health care debate, which was horribly perverted by money on both sides, and now you look at Abramoff and realize we are making horrible decisions for our country, all because we've put our government up for sale."