Exclusive Interview: Sebastian Doggart director of American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi
Posted by LiveFor on December 1, 2009
Sebastian Doggart has had a bit of a life…well one heck of a life. He went to Eton, was a journalist in South America, written a few books, directed a few plays, worked in American TV, won awards, made Courting Condi, the first musical docu-tragi-comedy in the history of cinema and has done much, much more.
Most recently he has made American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi an investigative documentary about Condoleezza Rice and her role in the US Government and in particular the Iraq War.
American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi is about Condoleezza Rice, an extraordinary but little-understood woman who rose from segregated Alabama to become the most powerful woman in the world. Incisive and shocking, this is the first retrospective film on the Bush Administration. It overturns the popular misconception of Rice as a yes-woman to President Bush to reveal her as his most enduring confidante – and thus responsible for much of the Bush legacy. This political, biographical documentary tells a Faustian story of a woman whose hubris tempted her into a pursuit of power that destroyed her core values, and hurtled America into a perilous new direction. Dr Rice leads her own defense, through a series of candid interviews – imdb
Sebastian was good enough to agree to an interview with myself where he discusses Katy Perry as Monica Lewinsky and the benefits of Opium over popcorn , so let’s crack on with that.
-How do you go from being editor for a South American newspaper to working on the American version of Wife Swap?
I started my career as an English teacher, then became a journalist, then a translator, then a theater director, then a festival producer, then a TV researcher/producer/director, then the director of a Cuban arts centre, then an actor, then a writer, then a reality TV producer and camera-man, then a film director and producer, and now a film distributor. I fear I may suffer from Professional Attention Deficit Disorder.
-What made you sit up and say I’m going to make a documentary about Condoleezza Rice – first with Courting Condi and now this new one? What was the spark?
In 2005, Forbes magazine named Rice the ‘most powerful woman in the world.’ I’ve always been excited by strong ladies. I used to entertain inappropriate fantasies about Margaret Thatcher, imagining her in 10 Downing Street kitchen, naked except for an apron, boiling red cabbage and scolding me for being a very naughty boy. Then I made a proto-feminist version of King Lear – called Ms Lear. Later, I did a multi-genre film about the world’s most powerful female entertainer, 15 Films about Madonna. I was also hooked to make Courting Condi when I read that Rice has said “I want to leave office without anyone knowing where I stand on any of the issues.” She has been brilliant at flying beneath the radar of media scrutiny, so I wanted to tell the story that other journalists had not been able – or not had the cojones — to tell.
-Do you think the film will make a difference or is apathy going to win?
Film has the ability to encourage change. Look at what Food, Inc. has done to bring in new proposals for US farming regulations, or what An Inconvenient Truth did to raise awareness about global warning. I hope that our two films will help galvanize forces to hold Rice accountable, under the principle of command responsibility, for the crimes of torture that she ordered.
-Talk us through the process of making a feature documentary. Where do you begin? How many hours of footage did you have to review? How do you know when it is finished?
The process began four years ago. For Courting Condi, I began with the central idea of a normal man trying to win the heart of an extraordinary woman. I wrote an outline script of a new genre – a musical docu-comedy, and then we fleshed that out with the real-life locations and interviewees. We shot for 47 days, in five cities, and came back with around 210 hours of footage. We were open to discoveries beyond the script, the most surprising of which concerned Rice’s involvement in torture – which changed the film to be a musical-docu-tragi-comedy. For American Faust, I began with the objective of making a straight investigative documentary about Rice’s pursuit and misuse of power. We relied on a lot of archive, and probably reviewed 5,000 hours of material, especially the interviews with Rice. I’m not sure when this film will be finished since it now has an advocacy role in raising awareness about war crimes that Rice committed but has still not been punished for. So it won’t be finished until either she is sitting in Federal jail, or she becomes President and orders the film to be suppressed and me to be sent to an Egyptian black site.
-Are there any quotes or interviews that you wish you had left out or put in?
We underwent a rigorous process of test screenings, so I’m confident we made the right decisions on what to retain and what to cut. There are numerous interviewees I wish had agreed to speak to us. Madeleine Albright, whose father Josef Korbel was a mentor to Rice, told me on the phone how she felt Rice had betrayed her father’s legacy, but was prohibited by protocol to speak on camera. And I would give two fingernails to have been able to interview Rice herself. I tried to push my way into her home at the Watergate, but she blocked me at every step of the way.
-How do you feel about Barack Obama’s work so far? Is hope fading?
No US President has ever had so much hope from so many people weighing on his shoulders. And no President has inherited so much legal, economic, moral and military mess from his predecessor. He deserves patience, and I still hope he will resist the temptations of power and carry through on at least half of his pledges. But his failure to implement concrete change is deeply concerning, especially on human rights. He looks likely to renege on his promise to close Guantanamo by January 2010. He continues to endorse the CIA’s operation around the world of CIA ‘black sites’ – legal black holes where torture has been rife. He has personally authorized the assassination in Pakistan of over 200 alleged ‘terrorists’ and their family members. To do this, he has used drones that have fired Hellfire missiles, loaded by private contractors from Blackwater, the notorious company (now known as Xe Services) responsible for the 2007 massacre in Nisour Square, Baghdad. Since the US is not at war with Pakistan, such attacks are illegal, and totally undermine Obama’s promise that the US will operate within the rules of US and international law.
-Favourite film of 2009? Favourite documentary of 2009?
Favorite narrative feature of 2009: Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker for its haunting depiction of both the appeal and the futility of war. Favourite doc: Juan Laguna’s Princess of Africa, about a polygamous ‘griot’ from Senegal, extraordinary for its use of watercolor animation as a storytelling device.
-Salted or sweet popcorn?
Yuck. Corn is the scourge of the world. It poisons cows, chickens and salmon. It’s a black hole for the public funding of ethanol production. Opium is much more fun to consume during a movie. I prefer Afghan Tar, produced by the Karzai brothers – that provides a happy ending to every story.
-Will you stick to making documentary features or do you have any plans to make a feature based on fiction?
We are seeking producing partners to shoot my new script, a musical docu-comedy called Clinton – A Neuro Musical, about a neural imaging device that enables us to look inside Bill Clinton’s mind. Katy Perry is slated to play Monica Lewinsky.
-What are you working on now?
A group of film-makers and I are setting up an online distribution platform for independent films, called www.indiesdirect.com I have become deeply frustrated by the way films are distributed, and outraged at the way distributors rip off producers. The time has come for us to do what musicians have done to the record companies. We need to smash the studio system and take our films straight to our audiences. Our online studio will give filmmakers a place to distribute their film and will pay them more and faster than other outlets like iTunes. This will not only help filmmakers to finance their films but will mean film-lovers will receive a far wider choice of movies than Netflix and the multiplexes give them.
Courting Condi and American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi are released worldwide on December 9th, on DVD, streaming, and download-to-own at www.indiesdirect.com
Sebastian thanks very much.