Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney had some choice words about the Trump administration today as he Zoomed into the Venice Film Festival to discuss Crazy Not Insane, his out of competition title that’s playing here. It focuses on Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a psychiatrist who assesses the sanity of people on death row before they are to be executed and examines what makes someone a serial killer. Gibney came across her as part of research for a scripted project he’s working on with Laura Dern, he said. Dern narrates Crazy, Not Insane.
Lewis, who’s examined numerous serial killers, including Ted Bundy, shared research videotapes of interviewees which show evidence of multiple personalities formed from childhood trauma. She is described as a different kind of homicide detective, less interested in what happened than why and “practices a kind of radical empathy, but within a scientific context,” Gibney explained. Her method is “science versus the justice system. The justice system is more based on revenge rather than an understanding of cause and effect.”
Asked about criminal reform and the state of the debate on the death penalty in America, Gibney said, “it’s not surprising that the Trump administration would lean more heavily into the idea of revenge. Trump and his administration, their whole political legitimacy has to do with engaging a kind of primordializing sense of rage. And so, the death penalty fits neatly into that political paradigm which is unfortunate because it does seem that a number of states slowly but surely are moving to abolish the death penalty.”
He added, “We continue in the U.S. unfortunately to wrestle with the political appeal of the death penalty because it engages people’s anger and a sense of revenge. To me, that was the ugly insight that this film raised which is that in some ways our justice system is based on the notion of revenge rather than true justice and that was a revelation for me.”
Yesterday, it had been revealed that Gibney’s upcoming picture, Totally Under Control, which puts a spotlight on the White House’s response to the global pandemic and how it could have been prevented, will release domestically via Neon in October. Referring to that film, and saying he was working night and day to finish it, Gibney commented today, “The United States did about the worst. It used to be one of the world leaders in terms of scientific research and the Center for Disease Control… We’ve utterly failed.”
As Deadline reported on Thursday, Gibney previously said about the project which he’s been quietly filming for the last four months, “While the current administration tries to frame the situation as an unavoidable crisis, it is really closer to a crime of negligence.”
Crazy, Not Insane will air on HBO. Gibney’s next project, Agents Of Chaos, a four-hour look at Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, debuts on HBO on September 23.