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?
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.