White at Sundance: Day 1--The Demon Lobbyist of K Street

By Tom White

Thanks to my colleague and part-time condo-mate Tamara Krinsky for taking us this far. I arrived for the second half, hit the ground running, getting my press credz at Sundance HQ, hightailing it to the Sundance Channel party, where the passed hors d'oevres included s'mores, that summertime, sing-around-the-campfire treat. Spotted among the revelers were Sundance Channel's Sarah Eaton, BBC's Nick Fraser, TV-2 Denmark's Mette Hoffman-Meyer, Participant Media's Dianne Weyermann, and filmmaker/doc juror Ondi Timoner.

With some time to kill between the party and my first screening, I crossed the street to the New Frontier on Main, an always fascinating and bracing forum for cinematic experimentation and innovation. Two of the more remarkable video installations included Bordertown, from Oakland, California-based multimedia artist Tracey Snelling, which re-imagines a town on the Mexican-American border, in which the windows, doorways and apertures of seedy hotels, brothels, strip joints, liquor stores and food carts double as video screens depicting scenes from an ongoing binational/bicultural tale. And then there was Lobe of Lung (The Saliva Ooze Away to the Underground), from Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, who invites audiences to lie on mattresses and immerse themselves in a kaleidoscopic journey of sound and vision, in which, on perpendicular walls, we behold an edenic wash of undulating and morphing images.

Tracey Snelling's multimedia installation Bordertown.

Where do you go from there? Well, I hit my first screening-Alex Gibney's Casino Jack and the United States of Money. En route to the Temple Theatre, I had a nice chat with one of the cameramen on the film, who was about to see it for the first time. The ever prolific Mr. Gibney is also working on docs about bicyclist Lance Armstrong's 2008 comeback bid and Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, as well as a piece in the omnibus Freakonomics project.

Gibney introduced the film as "a comedy, but the joke's on us." He has a flair for making hard-hitting journalism entertaining and darkly funny, and Casino Jack bears echoes of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, in underscoring the outrage-inducing absurdity of its subject. Gibney has always showed a flair for aural texture, and the song cues in Casino Jack could make this a musical comedy-perhaps along the lines of Sweeney Todd (I can here it now: Casino Jack: The Demon Lobbyist of K Street).

Abramoff does not appear in on-camera interviews-he's currently serving four years in prison-but Gibney and his team have ferreted out some fascinating footage, dating back to Abramaoff's days as a Young College Republican, which planted the seeds for a decades-long crusade for Right Wing supremacy. Inspired by the Reagan Revolution, Jack was a de facto soldier of fortune, taking cues from General Patton, supporting so-called freedom fighters around the world, and even dabbling in the movies, as a producer.

He carried his zealous fervor into lobbying, and commandeered oceans of money to maintain Republican preeminence-until hubris, that time-honored equalizer, razed the house that Jack built.

The film clocks in at a longish two hours, so could stand some judicious cutting. It opens this April through Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media.

When asked about the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for corporate financing of the electoral process--and, let's face it, the legislative and judicial processes too--Gibney joked, "We've reached Tom Delay's paradise," but added "It makes this issue intensely important....It's time to mobilize popular anger. There's lots to be done, and if we don't get it done, we're done."

For Tamara Krinsky's Doc Shot with Gibney, click here.