By: Jeffrey Ressner
The filmmaker who won an Academy Award Sunday night for best documentary is next turning his attention to the Jack Abramoff scandal, including GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s role in investigating the affair.
Alex Gibney, who made last year's "Taxi to the Dark Side," about the lethal interrogation of an Afghan taxicab driver by American military forces, told Politico his Abramoff film would be coming out later this year. Its tentative title: "Casino Jack and the United States of Money."
"The film should give viewers a greater understanding, in a blow-by-blow way, of how the political process works, particularly with regards to lobbying," Gibney says. "This movie will have it all: wild international intrigue, money changing hands in unexpected places, etc. It will be fun. As someone said about an earlier picture I made: 'It's a comedy that turns into farce and ends up in horror.'"
McCain "of course" comes up in the film, adds Gibney, who has "put the word out" to the Arizona senator’s presidential campaign for comment. "He certainly plays a role — he ran the [Abramoff] hearings, so he's unavoidably involved in the story. Then the questioning extends. Upon further investigation, one looks at his motives and things like that. I don't want to say much more than that, but he is a character in the story."
The McCain campaign has not returned a call requesting comment.
Though he won't reveal who else appears in the film, Gibney got "some people who knew Jack pretty well" to appear on camera. As might be expected, few congressmen or senators cooperated with the documentary and sat for interviews. "Interestingly enough, not many politicians went on the record," he says sarcastically. "For some strange reason, every time I call about this movie, no one wants to talk on camera. How odd!"
Gibney admits telling the labyrinthine tale behind Abramoff's cash-for-votes shenanigans is "maddeningly difficult " because it is "terribly complicated" — though its basic underlying themes of greed and corruption should make it easy for audiences to digest.
The film will explore Abramoff's entire life history, Gibney says, from his early years as a gung-ho member of the GOP political machine until his final reckoning as a disgraced lobbyist. "There will be some very new, interesting information about the rise of College Republicans," Gibney promises. Heading up the College Republican National Committee during the early 1980s, Abramoff joined forces with future party power brokers Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist.
The Abramoff film is still a few months away from completion but has already been acquired for distribution by Mark Cuban's Magnolia Films, which previously handled Gibney's doc on the Enron fiasco, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." Magnolia also co-financed the new doc with Participant Productions, the politically active film unit founded by former eBay executive Jeff Skoll.