A new Alex Gibney-directed tell-all documentary about the Elliot Spitzer sex scandal premieres April 24th at the Tribeca Film Festival. The story of the downfall of the New York governor is supposed to stir up headlines when its work in progress print gets a red carpet premiere. Gibney collaborated on the film project with Peter Elkind, who turned his research into the book Rough Justice to be published April 20 by the Penguin imprint Portfolio. (An excerpt breaks today in Fortune Magazine … before call girl Ashley Dupre is skedded to bare all in Playboy Magazine.) Gibney and Elkind previously worked on Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
The Spitzer documentary, financed by A&E IndieFilm, contains interviews with most of the major players including the ex-governor and his women, including one prostitute whose role wasn’t known to the media previously. Gibney realizes that sex sells and likes that his pic is a hot ticket. “I’ve never had so many requests from so many people to see a documentary, and I expect the screening’s going to be something of a circus,” he said. “It’s in keeping with a film that asks the question, ‘Have we gone too far with obsession of a sex scandal?’” Unclear is whether Spitzer himself will show up, though he certainly does so onscreen, and not just in file footage.
The big surprise to me is that Gibney interviewed Spitzer 4 times, and the footage I saw showed the disgraced New York governor gamely discussing his rise and fall. “I was initially surprised he talked, but I think at some point he decided the story was going to be told anyway, and that it might be better to be part of it than not,” Gibney said. “Sometimes, that is dangerous and it backfires, but I must say that here, you see Spitzer trying to reckon with what he did, and come clean about it. That’s ultimately admirable.”
The documentary is being repped at the festival by John Sloss at Cinetic Media, and it’s one of three projects the director will unveil at Tribeca. (Another is My Trip To Al Qaeda, a documentary about journalist Lawrence Wright’s one-man stage show. Also, Gibney is among several directors who filmed segments for the documentary based on the book Freakonomics, with Gibney examining corruption in sumo wrestling.)
Contrasted to the carefully-choreographed press conferences held by Tiger Woods that seemed disingenuous, Spitzer makes the picture part of an apology tour that feels more honest. In the documentary, he explains his own hubris and downfall by raising the metaphor of Icarus. “Those whom the gods would destroy, they make all powerful,” he says in the film. I see he’s booked himself to speak May 2 at the 92nd St. Y lecture series in Manhattan. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows at Tribeca. As for the possibility of a second act, Gibney says don’t count him out. “F Scott Fitzgerald once said there are no second acts in American life, and I think that’s one of the stupidest things he ever said,” Gibney told me. “You only have to look at Bill Clinton, who got a blow job in the White house and has become a distinguished spokesperson, to see it is possible. But Spitzer set a high bar and left a lot of people feeling betrayed. He portrayed himself as this Dudley Do-Right guy, and then he did wrong. He prosecuted escort services and people were shocked by the hypocrisy. Still, he does seem to have a lot to offer when analyzing the economy and how powerful forces act venally and irresponsibly.”