“A lot of former government officials will be there tonight,” says Alex Gibney, sipping a cappuccino in a dining room of the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square on Friday afternoon. “It will be interesting to see if we’ve told too much. But if afterwards I’m found dead and they say I committed suicide be sure to let everyone know I didn’t kill myself.”
He’s joking. We hope.
Then again, controversy and threats seem to be a fact of life these days for the Oscar-winning director (“Taxi to the Dark Side”). Gibney was in town for a screening at the Harvard Kennedy School of his new documentary. “Zero Days,” a shocking and provocative investigation of the covert use of computer super viruses to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program. Whatever blowback he gets from the new film probably won’t surpass the ongoing campaign to discredit him by the followers of Scientology after the release last year of his exposé, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.” Look up Alex Gibney on Google and the first thing that pops up is an ad for alexgibneypropaganda.com inviting you to “Learn the Truth about Alex Gibney and His ‘Going Clear’ Documentary.”
“Yeah,” says Gibney, shrugging it off. “And they still come to all my events in Los Angeles.”
Ironically, because of the timing of the Harvard screening and discussion, Gibney said he would not be able to watch Friday night’s much ballyhooed ABC “20/20” segment in which David Miscavige’s father, Ron, a Scientology apostate, was slated to discuss his tell-all book “Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me.”
“I didn’t know about the show,” says Gibney. “But I sure knew about the book. I haven’t read it, yet. I can’t wait. I’m really interested in it. There are supposed to be some fascinating revelations. There must be, because I think it was an AP reporter who dug up a great story about how David hired a private eye to follow Ron and they found 2,000 rounds of ammunition in the PI’s car. Just goin’ huntin,’ I guess.”
Did Miscavige senior consult with Gibney in researching the book?
“Nah,” he says. “We were trying to get him to come forward at the time for our film, but we weren’t successful.”
Between this book and Gibney’s film it would seem that Scientology might be seeing its last days. But Gibney is not so sure.
“It’s hard to know,” he says. “Scientology is pretty resilient because they have all this money, even though they don’t have that many members anymore. They’re well under 50,000. But some of them are very rich and the organization is very rich. They have around $3 billion.”
Meanwhile, Gibney doesn’t mind voicing concern about another formidable institution that might not be very happy with his newest film.
Did he mind going on record with his “suicide” comment? “No,” he says.
He’s not joking.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.