Spitzer doc unveiled at Tribeca

Work-in-progress sympathetic yet critical of former governor

NEW YORK -- Alex Gibney took the wraps off his work-in-progress doc about former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Saturday night at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The untitled film, which includes several interviews the filmmaker conducted with Spitzer about midway during A&E Indie Films' two-year production process, offers a largely sympathetic though occasionally critical look at Spitzer's accomplishments -- as well as his downfall and the suspected forces behind it. Allies and enemies, including former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, also are interviewed.

The project was one of the most warmly received titles available for acquisition during Tribeca's opening weekend. Several films have emerged from under the radar to attract buyer interest, including the polygamy doc "Sons of Perdition," the poetic drama "Lucky Life" and the Vietnamese actioner "Clash."

As is traditionally the case at Tribeca -- and increasingly the case even in hotter markets like Sundance, given the tougher climate for indie fare -- no immediate sales are expected.

Late-weekend hopes centered on several Sunday premieres, including the James Franco-toplined crime drama "William Vincent," the Kim Cattrall-as-porn-star comedy "Meet Monica Velour" and the Billy Joel concert pic "Last Play at Shea."

Distribution executives who were unable to attend the sole Spitzer screening are expected to view the film outside the festival before bidding begins. One main draw is that Gibney goes beyond the familiar aspects of the case -- like Ashley Dupre, the prostitute described as Kristen in the federal affidavit filed by prosecutors -- to dish up the first-ever interview with Spitzer's most frequent escort. That woman, who is now a commodities trader, doesn't actually appear in the film. Instead, she is referred to by the alias "Angelina" and her words are spoken by an actress, who re-enacts her interview with Gibney.

The film also presents new information about the scandal in an amusing interview with Emperors Club VIP's giggly young madam, Cecil Suwal.

"You have to question what the hell was the future president of the United States thinking by spending time on the phone with a 22-year-old like Suwal, trying to figure out how to secretly wire bank transfers to her operation so he can see hookers while he has everyone chasing after him," said Gibney in an interview after the screening. "There's some kind of major issue there, and it's still a mystery."

There are several shocking moments in the film, such as former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead recalling that Spitzer told him "I will destroy you" -- "I hope I didn't say that," Spitzer replies in the film -- or the former governor's explanation of his behavior. "You cave into temptation in ways that perhaps seem easier, less damaging, than relationships that take on a different tone," he says.

"I'm not sure he can properly articulate why he did what he did," Gibney said of Spitzer's vague reasons for his behavior. "He's not one that does introspection very well."

Another of the film's selling points, given Washington's current crusade to reform Wall Street, is its examination of the economic reforms Spitzer pursued and the financial and political players who may have spurred along the investigation as payback. It's familiar terrain for Gibney, who also directed the Tribeca world premiere doc "My Trip to Al-Quaeda" and a segment of the fest's closing night film "Freakonomics."

The director said he's sympathetic to his subject, but producers Jedd and Todd Wider said Spitzer has no financial stake or editorial control in the film or in a new book, Peter Elkind's "Rough Justice," that has been published in conjunction with it.

Gibney expects to shorten the current 125-minute version of the doc and add potentially more incendiary material in the coming weeks.

"There's some sensational stuff we may have left out mistakenly," Gibney said.

Nora Ephron, Nick Pileggi, Mort Zuckerman and NYC police commissioner Raymond Kelly were among the notables in attendance at the SVA Theater screening in Chelsea.
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