Academy Award-Winner Alex Gibney’s Tale of Two Cities in One

Filmmaker Alex Gibney

Filmmaker Alex Gibney

We sat down with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, director of Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream, to talk about what motivated him to make this film. The documentary is part of Why Poverty? and premieres on Independent Lens on Monday, November 12 at 10 PM (check local listings).

What led you to make this film?
I am furious at the way that we have allowed money to subvert our democracy. I am appalled at the way that the U.S., a very wealthy nation, permits and even encourages a level of poverty that other wealthy nations would not even consider. Last, I am disturbed at the popular acceptance of theories that argue that we should be as selfish as possible and that altruism itself is evil. That’s a perversion of laissez-faire economic theory going back to Adam Smith and Milton Friedman.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
I wanted to talk to the wealthy interests who are manipulating our political system. They all declined to be interviewed.

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
Obviously, I didn’t gain the trust of many of those I portrayed. I give tremendous credit to Jack Abramoff and Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity for speaking with me. Dialogue between people of differing views is critical for fostering understanding in a democracy.

What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
Interviews with the people responsible for creating so much inequality.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
A scene in a food pantry in the South Bronx.  A local couple, Colin and April Dunkley, try very hard to feed the unemployed. But they run out of food within 15 minutes.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Fear.

Facade of high-class Manhattan apartment building.

Facade of 740 Park in Manhattan, home of some of America’s wealthiest citizens.

What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
We weren’t able to convince the wealthy denizens of 740 Park to talk to us.

What impact do you hope this film will have?
I hope it will make people as angry as I am.

What are your three favorite films?
Once Upon a Time in the West, Out of the Past, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Learn how to raise and handle money.

What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
A martini. Shaken not stirred.

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  • Ross

    Where can I find the whole movie online , it was brilliant and should be shared not a a 2:00 min clip send me the link please to rwd67@live.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/sandy.west.376 Sandy West

    This film is very informative and should have aired before the election. People are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Where can I find the move online or when will it come on again?

  • Warren Bradley

    I just watched Mr. Gibney’s excellent film. I am fearful that Mr. Ryan and Mr. Kantor are part of this country’s legislature, and they have prominence to boot. God(and voters)please save us from the Grover Norquist’s of the world as well as those living at 740 Park Avenue.
    I hate this idea, but it appears to be fact, and that is, that the electorate is generally ignorant of the real backgrounds and ideologies of those who put themselves before the voters for election. I truly question if those who elected Paul Ryan in Wisconsin know who Ayn Rand is and what she stood for and, what Mr. Ryan now stands for. He may have been, potentially, a more dangerous Vice President than Mr. McCain’s choice.

  • Scott

    I would like to be able to share it with people online as well. The public cannot be kept in the dark about these flagrant and dangerous abuses of power by so few people at the top. Please make this available online in its entirety.

  • AB

    Excellent movie. Mr. Gebney and PBS thank you. I am
    attending class Corporate Social responsibility and I would like to show my
    teacher fellow students. Would I be able
    to find it tomorrow? Unfortunately was not on the program before election and I
    might guess why! Copy should be sent in every single household in USA that some
    people wake up in our country.

  • http://www.facebook.com/craig.dean.566 Craig Dean

    This was certainly a four star program. I only hope that more people will view this program and share their thoughts. It is clear from this program that the super wealthy…top 400 earners in the USA are in total war against the low and middle class using their effluent wealth to lobby our men and women in congress to pass tax laws that favor their own interests while doing away with all essential safety nets to those who cannot find work and need some temporary assistance.

  • http://twitter.com/shoecalendar Lisa Harmon

    Make this available to purchase or online. This should be viewed by every single American. Even those living at 400 Park Avenue. It’s stunning.

    • Edsopinion

      It’s 740 Park Ave. 400 Park Ave might be a food pantry or homeless shelter but probably not 79 park Ave, but probably another rich encampment from the colod world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wilson.yee.56 Wilson Yee

    Thank you Alex Gibney for opening our eyes. The GOP is pro-life, but they don’t want to fed the kid after it’s born if it is poor. I want a copy of the film to show all those ignorant people out there. You have a good heart and a great moral compass.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1592667757 Barb Cody

      Amen! And amen!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1592667757 Barb Cody

    I feel like I am beating my head against a wall with my Evangelical brothers and sisters! I dared to jump out of the Republican ship and refused to jump into the Democrat’s ship either and many times I feel very “Persona non grata.”

    The chicanery of both parties is abominable and in my opinion anti-American. But, somehow these power mad people have convinced the masses that what they are doing is okay and why should it bother you? Wha? :(

    They begrudge the poor any real help and yet they are the biggest welfare queens of all! It’s just so wrong! Why can’t any one see it??? I’m truly befuddled by it all!

    • http://www.facebook.com/wilson.yee.56 Wilson Yee

      To me, that was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back. I left my former church about three weeks ago because they kept telling me that that pro-life is the ONLY reason all Christians should vote Republican. I am pro-life also, but I also have a brain and common sense, which I don’t see from lots of my fellow humans and former congregation. After seeing this film, whatever happen to love your neighbor as thyself? The greed of the GOP really irked me.

  • eileen

    Alex, you said by making this film you hoped to make people as angry and you are about the gap between the super rich and the poor. After watching this film, I AM ANGRY! The part I liked the best and agreed with the most is when a woman being interviewed said something like. The super rich brain wash people into believing that it’s the government handouts to the poor that are breaking this country. And if the rich can convince people of that, then their own wealth in completely protected just like that have done and are still doing now.
    I had a conversation with a woman who was complaining about people getting food stamps, she raved and raved about how wrong it is and that these people are cheating the system and being lazy. I said to her “I know of many people who get food stamps. They are not living the high life by any means. They have next to nothing, not many clothes, or sometimes even a car or a house. They don’t go on lavish vacations, eat out at lavish restaurants, buy expensive jewelry, go shopping at the mall etc….In fact most of them shop at the “Good Will” So to me, if they want to eat a damn steak paid for the by the government (tax payers) then let them have it and enjoy it.! That’s all they have to really look forward to.

  • Brian Gronski

    I want to thank Alex Gibney for
    making this film. As I watched, I felt that feelings I have had for a long time
    were confirmed again and again. I have long believed that that capitalism
    without a conscience is as bad as or worse than all known forms of economic
    systems. Unfortunately, when capitalism without a conscience is combined with
    how it has been allowed to control many of our government policies, it seems to
    be sending us back into history to a new era of lords and surfs led by a band
    of Henry F. Potters.

    The big question is how we get things turned around when a few control so much.
    It is time Americans rethink capitalism, how it should work and see through the
    smoke and mirrors of many of those in the 1% and our politicians. This concept
    of taxing the rich is not taxing the rich; it is taxing those who choose to
    make a certain amount of money. They have the option to pay employees more and
    share what was obtained by so many, because no individual can produce any
    amount of anything by them self to acquire huge sums of money. It comes at the hands of many hard working
    individuals. I am for holding
    individuals responsible for getting an education, working hard, and supporting themselves
    to the extent God has allowed them.

    I think we need to do at the bare
    minimum some of the following. First, be
    willing to continue this conversation and expose more of this issue. Second, develop
    forums for this discussion (ie mainstream media, social media, national forum,
    etc.) Third, through the conversation,
    create discussion around solutions to squaring up the playing field to provide the
    opportunity for all to prosper, which may be to create a third political party
    (the American Party), exposing politicians true colors and changing the face of
    Washington D.C., and putting social pressure on those in the 1% without a
    conscience to have one, etc… Last, never
    let the conversations die by growing complacent as a nation and taking our eye
    off the ball again.

    Much of this issue has come from
    so many chasing a bad dream of having more and more and having more than their
    neighbor instead of how much do we need, can we get ahead but at the same time
    bring others along with us so that all can be happy and prosper. I wish we placed more emphasis on how we live
    together as apposed as how far can we get ahead.

    I do not have all the answers or
    solutions, but I am willing to work toward finding and implementing them.

    Brian Gronski

    Faith, Family, Friends, and
    Fellowship.

    God Bless!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nels.bentson Nels Sterling Bentson

    I’m angry..great work thanks

  • Eleanor Oakley

    WHEN AND WHERE CAN I PURCHASE A COPY OF PARK AVENUE, MONEY, POWER AND THE AMERICAN DREAM? MUST BE SEEN BY STUDENTS

  • http://www.facebook.com/liz.casale1 Liz Casale

    How can I buy a copy of this program? It needs to be seen by more people.This was/is an exceptional piece.

  • tomnelson67@yahoo.com

    I noticed that the people at the food pantry were all overweight, I wonder why!!!

    Tom Nelson

    tomnelson67@yahoo.com

    • June Sackett

      Cause they eat a horrific diet, because of so very, very many factors. They eat what they can get, whenever they can get it. Hardly. a recipe for looking like a supermodel.
      Ever heard of food deserts? Dont’ be quite so quick to judge.

  • jfw

    I just donated to WTTW for the last time. One sided hatchet job of a movie. Who is John Galt.

  • Armyav8r

    ONE QUESTION: “each and every year approximately 2.2 million first generation immigrants land on American shores armed with little more than a few dollars and a desire to build a good life for their families. For years they work hard and build (slowly and methodically) a great life for their families over time. So my question is…if an immigrant can arrive to America with near zero, and proceed to bust ass and build a good life for THEIR families…WHAT IS STOPPING YOU ? ” [ANSWER: YOU are stopping you. THAT is what is stopping you.]

    Victim and blame tactics are a excuses to avoid looking in the mirror and DUPLICATING what hundreds of thousands of first generation immigrants do annually. You can either sit there like a two year old and cry, whine, point fingers and blame others….OR….you can MODEL what these immigrants do and GO DO IT.

    Further, if you adopt the Occupy Wall Street mentality of standing around with signs of “who” or “what” you HATE….you are essentially doing ZERO. Instead, if YOU simply STOP USING the products and services of the so called “evil rich”….then they will CEASE to be able to sell their product or services…in other words, PEOPLE can directly affect the outcome THEMSELVES by simply getting OTHER PEOPLE to stop using their product or services. But nooooooooooo….you MUST have the iPhone (100% produced OFF SHORE)…and you MUST continue to be an EMPLOYEE (because you are NOT WILLING to take the risk and start your own biz)

    We just elected a black man to the Presidency. He is a testimony of HOW and WHY the victim card IS AN EXCUSE…and is testimony to an irresponsible mindset that CHOOSES to sit and cry rather than mobilize and act.

    The only thing BLOCKING anyone from achieving a good life for their families…is THEMSELVES..and Barack Obama is a great example as to HOW and WHY that is true.

    The truth hurts…get used to it…welcome to reality.

    • http://www.facebook.com/anthony.williams.3950178 Anthony Williams

      I went to school like your taught like your became a cetrtified computer technician only to find myself without steady work for 3 years. I now work at a hotel full time as a shuttle driver. My wife works full time and does hair on the side. We have one child and let me tell you, we are not victims. I’m a honest hard working American, but I can’t get by in my household without help and we have two incomes. As children we are taught to get an education, get a job and be a productive member of society. That’s no longer enough because the top 1% believe they should be able to build wealth by the sweat of greater more honorable men (yourself included probably) and keep all the spoils for themselves. That has never been what America is about.

  • kathleen perkins

    Alex nails what is happening and how it happened very precisely in one hour.
    How do we fight poverty when our leaders have created much of it via greedy policies, lobbying and fundraising . . . under the umbrella messaging of American values

  • winstonwolfe73

    Excellent program. Can someone possibly reveal the name of the narrator?

    • http://www.thinkyhead.com/ Thinkyhead

      At first I thought Harvey Keitel, then I thought no, it’s some other New York actor. But the narrator says at one point “I made a film critical of Jack Abramoff,” so it sounds like Alex Gibney is doing the narration. I checked out an interview with Mr. Gibney and in fact that is his voice narrating.

      • winstonwolfe73

        Fantastic! I’m watching this one again soon. Loved this film.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tom.barbeau Tom Barbeau

    I think that if you are going to quote Friedman, you should make sure people see his entire 10 part series “Free to Choose”. http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLF740C9F54CE5FF88

  • ?everything

    OLIGARCHY !!!!

  • http://twitter.com/BingoChamp03 Arthur Jacob AJ

    On the PBS site, I have watch the film to the point when Nader is going to feel the price of courage when the video ends at 20minutes. I really hope that I get to see the other 33 minutes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.serrano.52831 Robert Serrano

    I got to watch this documentary last night with my wife and we applaud the work put into this very important piece of work. Quite frankly it made us sick to our stomachs that this kind of one sided and unbalanced favoritism is still happening, or has it really ever not been a problem. The well to do have always seemed to be untouchable and quite frankly know it and enjoy it. It’s one of the reasons why I have no faith in the political system of America it is broken and I just don’t think there is a path to repair it. Great work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1258399307 Scott Noren

    I plan on trying to take this film all over NY if Alex will let me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/della.cole2 Della Cole

    Finally someone dared to show the public what’s going on.

  • Russ

    Very interesting if the claims made in this film are true. I just wonder, how is anyone to know just how much of this film is factual and how much is motivated by a political agenda?

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.brewer.5203 Susan Brewer

    Alex, isn’t what you describe in your film actually a perversion of the American Dream? It is an important distinction to keep in mind. The follow-up to your film requires re-framing the identity and the nature of the existence of these individuals. These men that you describe could be called the war lords of the cartels of capitalism? Right? These men are wicked, evil, narcissistic sociopaths. Redefine the American Dream, and I am in favor of making changes to the dream that you might suggest. Now appears to be a good time to do that!
    Fabulous job in being able to follow up with Abramoff. Also, the contrast in the tone used in your delivery of the story and your actual feelings is remarkable.

  • disqus_tzUFfB1oYM

    To allow this crap to be a racist issue is crazy. I am white, and am in poverty, we eat ramen noodles and whatever else we get from the food bank until I get my first check from my new job at $8.00 an hour. These people eat like royalty compared to us. Find another route to make racist, this one doesn’t work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Snooky-Stafford/100002529589829 Snooky Stafford

    I really was glad that I forced myself to stay awake and watch it!!! Well worth the time an effort, we need Pres. Obama to lead the well regulated guys to storm and arrest every bastard at 740 Park Avenue.

  • Sharon Broadie

    It’s clear that the maker of this documentary is angry. Anger gets in the way of objectivity. The notion that only people on the Right are rich is ridiculous. The Rich are of all political beliefs. This documentary was made in 2012 but didn’t address the current President, Obama, but focused instead on Pres. Bush, Paul Ryan and Romney. Next time make a more honest documentary that includes people from all political beliefs and then you might have something worthwhile.

    • Non-techie Talk

      I guess you missed the segment dealing with Senator Schumer, D-NY.

  • John Free

    I love this doc so much – I wish more people spread it – it is available to watch on PBS website here: http://video.pbs.org/video/2296684923/

  • aliebs

    Will never vote for Schumer again!!!!

  • Rebecca Garrett

    how can we the, 90 percent, change this!!!! The park ave. people of this world starving the bottom 30 percent. Will you please address how to change the system, and fast.

  • Rebecca Garrett

    Americans need to vote in the lowest income people for office, from the ground up. if we the people take a stand against the money, then maybe we can correct this system that is starving the US people. We could bring back our textiles, farmers , and industry. make the country self sustaining. and make made in America mean something again. Oh and lobbing that so much pays for lunch should be a criminal offence 2 years max security. I would love to see this country be we the people, not the 400 club.

  • Non-techie Talk
  • Andy

    When is a DVD copy going to be available for purchase? I’ve tried amazon, Ebay, and even my local library to check out a copy, but to no avail. Seems strange to me 740 Park Ave. can’t be purchased anywhere. I realize it’s available to view online, but that can be inconvenient to share with people.

    • http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/ Independent Lens

      Hi,

      Currently, the filmmakers only have the film available streaming (on PBS and on Netflix), but yes it would be nice if it made its way to DVD as well. You can drop them a line here to see if there any updates to their plans:

      http://www.jigsawprods.com/contact/

      Thanks, good question!