Alex Gibney Talks Gaining the Trust of 'Citizen K' Subject Mikhail Khodorkovsky

"Mikhail is not Oprah," Gibney told the Documentary Roundtable. "He's not naturally giving."

Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker of Taxi to the Dark Side and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room Alex Gibney has a body of work that could scare off potential collaborators by not shying away from the truth.

But he explains to The Hollywood Reporter’s Documentary Roundtable how he earned the trust of his latest subject, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics, in his film Citizen K.

"Weirdly the subject of my film, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, saw Enron," he said. "He sort of enjoyed it. It was kind of brash, but I think also he had been persuaded by people around him that, you know, I was good. And I think he was ready to be honest in a way, so I don't think it particularly scared him. He's kind of a macho guy, but we had to sit down for a number of conversations ahead of time, so that he could understand where I was at, and more than anything, how seriously I was going to take the enterprise. And I think he was convinced I would, so we went forward."  

Gibney, who became interested in the subject after the 2016 election, explained that "being straight" with Khodorkovsky from the beginning "was the way I ultimately gained a measure of trust."

"I think that trust maintains itself even after the film has come out — the first half of it is very critical of him. The second half looks at him in a very different light as somebody who became a dissident, but I think he's OK with that. Mikhail is not Oprah. He’s not naturally giving," he said.

"I think most of us want to tell our story," Gibney continued. "The key thing is being convinced that the person to whom you're telling it is trustworthy and is going to be willing to be generous."

Gibney appears on the Documentary Roundtable along with Todd Douglas Miller, Julia Reichert, Asif Kapadia, Nanfu Wang and Lauren Greenfield. Follow all the Oscar season roundtables at THR.com/Roundtables.