The director of Cocaine Cowboys turns his focus on New York City club impresario Peter Gatien in his new documentary. In a video interview, Corben talks about finding and using dark humor in his films about serious subjects.
Miami-based filmmaker Billy Corben is best known for his catalog of documentaries highlighting the drugs of choice from recent decades. Square Grouper took on Miami’s pot trade in the 70’s. In his hit documentary, Cocaine Cowboys, he focused his lens on the cocaine explosion of 1980’s Miami. With his latest film, Limelight, Corben moves his focus to ecstasy, the 1990s and, this time, New York City, home of club impresario Peter Gatien.
Gatien’s rise was meteoric. He owned many of the most successful dance clubs in NYC (and elsewhere), including Palladium, Tunnel and, of course, the notorious Limelight. But by 2003, he was almost penniless — a result of intense investigations in the 1990’s over the sale of illegal drugs at his clubs — and he was forced to return to his native Canada.
Corben had complete creative control over the film, which doesn’t mean the same thing in independent documentary-making as it does in Hollywood, but this was impressive considering the film’s producer — Gatien’s daughter Jen (whose producing credits include 2007’s Hounddog and Abel Ferrara’s documentary about New York’s Chelsea Hotel, Chelsea on the Rocks). The result is a balanced portrayal of the nightclub owner, part astute businessman who earned the “King of Clubs” nickname, but part carny too.
I spoke with Corben recently in New York City, where Limelight is now screening (see the video above). The trailer is below. Check the Limelight Facebook page for updates on show times.