PN 16: Alex Gibney on Revealing Secrets

Cyber warfare and the Stuxnet virus are the focus of Alex Gibney’s new film “Zero Days.” Once again, Gibney proves himself a master in getting people to talk. In the film, he speaks with high-ranking government officials on camera as well as anonymous sources whose testimony is delivered by a computer avatar. On Pure Nonfiction, he talks to Thom Powers about the process of making “Zero Days.” He also reflects on the influence of his father Frank Gibney and the struggle to establish himself as a director before making a breakthrough around the age of 50.

For more, read “How Alex Gibney is Reinventing Documentary Filmmaking” by Boris Kachka in New York magazine

On Twitter: @AlexGibneyFilm @thompowers @purenonfiction

This interview was recorded at the School of Visual Arts MFA Social Documentary program.

Pure Nonfiction is sponsored by Sundance Now Doc Club.

Documentaries directed by Alex Gibney mentioned in this interview:

Zero Days (2016)

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (2015) – A critical look at the Apple CEO.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) – An expose of the Church of Scientology, based on the book by Lawrence Wright.

Finding Fela! (2014) – A complicated portrait on the life and music of Nigeria’s Fela Kuti.

The Armstrong Lie (2013) – Cyclist Lance Armstrong talks about the doping program that led to his downfall.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (2013) – Documenting the leak of government documents by Bradley Manning, their public release by Wikileaks, and the group’s controversial leader Julian Assange.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012) – Examining pedophilia in the Catholic Church, from the first known protest against clerical abuse in the US all the way to the Vatican.

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010) – The former New York State governor speaks on camera about the prostitution scandal that led to his resignation.

Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) – Oscar winner for Best Documentary, investigating the US government’s use of torture during the war in Afghanistan.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) – Chronicling the corruption that caused the company Enron to file for the largest corporate bankruptcy of its time.

Documentaries produced by Gibney, mentioned in the interview:

The Blues (2003) – Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, this multi-part series featured films directed by Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Clint Eastwood, Marc Levin, and others.

The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002) – directed by Eugene Jarecki, the film takes its inspiration from Christopher Hitchens’ book making a case for bringing war crime charges against the former Secretary of State.

The Pacific Century (1992) – a 10-part PBS series about the rise of the Pacific Rim economies. Alex’s father Frank Gibney wrote the accompanying book.

PN 15: Muhammad Ali on Film

Bill Siegel, director of “The Trials of Muhammad Ali,” spent over two decades nurturing the idea to make his film about Ali’s religious beliefs and his opposition to the Vietnam War. On Pure Nonfiction episode #15, Siegel talks to Thom Powers about the making of the film, his experiences with Ali’s family and attending the Champ’s funeral last month. Siegel and Powers also discuss other classic docs: William Klein’s “Muhammad Ali: The Greatest,” Leon Gast’s “When We Were Kings,” Jim Jacob’s “AKA Cassius Clay,” and William Greaves’ “The Fight.”

On Twitter: @MuhammadAliDoc @Kartemquin @thompowers @PureNonfiction

The Trials of Muhammad Ali

Pure Nonfiction is sponsored by Sundance Now Doc Club.

PN 14: TV’s King of Comedy

“Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” explores the life of the television maverick behind hit shows such as “All in the Family,” “Maude,” and “The Jeffersons.” On Pure Nonfiction, filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady discuss how they sought to create a nuanced portrait. They also discuss their early films “The Boys of Baraka” and the Oscar-nominated “Jesus Camp.”

On Twitter: @HeidiLoki @RachelLoki @thompowers @purenonfiction
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You

Pure Nonfiction is sponsored by Sundance Now Doc Club.

PN 13: “Life, Animated” director Roger Ross Williams

Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams talks about his career and his new film “Life, Animated” about an autistic boy who learns to communicate through Disney cartoons. Williams was the first African-American director to win an Oscar in 2010 for his documentary short “Music by Prudence.” His acceptance speech is memorable for being interrupted by his disgruntled producer. In this interview, he talks about that experience as well as his first feature film “God Loves Uganda” about American evangelicals fomenting homophobia in Africa.

On Twitter: @RogerRossWill @LifeAnimatedDoc @thompowers

Life, Animated
Music By Prudence
God Loves Uganda
Roger Ross Williams website
Pure Nonfiction is sponsored by Sundance Now Doc Club.

PN 12: Talking “Tickled” with David Farrier & Dylan Reeve

Fetish or sport? That’s what New Zealand TV journalist David Farrier wondered when he came across online videos of athletic young men in sports uniforms being tickled. The videos were billed as “Competitive Endurance Tickling.” Farrier reached out to the American video producer Jane O’Brien Media for an interview. They replied with a stream of threatening an homophobic emails. That only intrigued Farrier more. He teamed up with co-director Dylan Reeve to travel to America to investigate who is behind Jane O’Brien Media. Their quest resulted in one of the strangest documentaries of the year, “Tickled.” On this episode of Pure Nonfiction, Farrier and Reeve describe what they learned standing up to a litigious bully. The film is being released in the U.S. by Magnolia Pictures and HBO Documentaries.

On Twitter: @davidfarrier @DylanReeve @TickledMovie @thompowers

Pure Nonfiction is sponsored by Sundance Now Doc Club.

PN 11: Yo-Yo Ma & Morgan Neville on “The Music of Strangers”

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma talks to Pure Nonfiction about “The Music of Strangers” and lessons he’s learned since a mid-life crisis led him to create the Silk Road Ensemble. Host Thom Powers also speaks to director Morgan Neville about making “The Music of Strangers” as well as his Oscar-winner “20 Feet from Stardom.” Plus, Neville shares memories of filming with Prince and Judith Hill last year.

On Twitter: @YoYo_Ma @TremoloDocs @silkroadproject @Judith_Hill @Participant @HBODocs @thompowers

PN 10: Why Revisit O.J. Simpson?

Ezra Edelman explores the life of O.J. Simpson against the backdrop of race relations in Los Angeles in the five-part ESPN series “O.J.: Made in America.” On Pure Nonfiction, Edelman talks about re-opening a story that many participants wanted to avoid and how he overcame their reluctance.

On Twitter: @ezraedelman @thompowers

O.J.: Made in America 

Pure Nonfiction is sponsored by Sundance Now Doc Club.

PN 09: Pennebaker & Hegedus on Clinton, Bowie & Animal Rights

DA Pennebaker & Chris Hegedus have been collaborating for 40 years. In this interview with Thom Powers, they talk about films throughout their career including “Town Bloody Hall” about a 1970s debate over women’s liberation; “The War Room” about Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign; and their newest HBO documentary “Unlocking the Cage” about animal rights lawyer Steve Wise, now playing in theaters. Pennebaker also shares memories of working with David Bowie on the 1970s concert film “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” The interview was recorded in May at the Montclair Film Festival’s Audible Lounge before a live audience. During the conversation, Chris refers to Pennebaker’s son Frazer who has been a key producer on their projects since the 1980s.

On Twitter:@PHFilms, @DAPennebaker, @UTCFilm, @HBODocs, @thompowers

Unlocking the Cage
Pennebaker Hegedus Films

Thanks to SundanceNow Doc Club for sponsoring this episode.

PN 08: Who is Princess Shaw?

“Presenting Princess Shaw” is one of the year’s most crowd-pleasing documentaries at festivals from TIFF to True/False to SXSW. Now it’s releasing in theaters and on VOD. Director Ido Haar follows Samantha Montgomery, aka Princess Shaw, an aspiring singer in New Orleans who posts her songs and diaries on YouTube. Unbeknownst to her, the composer Kutiman is listening from 7,000 miles away and will have a dramatic impact on her life. On Pure Nonfiction, Princess Shaw talks to Thom Powers about opening her life up to a stranger from abroad; and she samples a song from her upcoming album.

On Twitter: @_PRINCESS_SHAW @thompowers @purenonfiction

Presenting Princess Shaw

PN 07: Weiner Beyond the Headlines

“Weiner” directors Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg take us behind the scenes of filming their documentary about Anthony Weiner. The film follows the politician as he copes with a sexting scandal during the 2013 New York mayoral campaign. The film won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the David Carr Award at the Montclair Film Festival. This interview was conducted in May by Thom Powers in Montclair, NJ.

“A thought certainly ran through my head that I can’t believe I’m here right now. We see celebrity meltdowns and political scandals happen all the time, but it’s so rare to literally be in the room while it’s happening.” (Josh Kriegman)

On Twitter: @jkriegman @weinerdoc @anthonyweiner @thompowers

Thanks to our sponsor SundanceNow Doc Club. Watch Take 5 short films for free at

Show Notes


Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial