Monday, April 26, 2010

Casino Jack Hits the Big Screen (x2)

Several years ago, a Washington lobbyist named Jack Abramoff got himself - and some high-up politicians like Tom Delay - into a whole lot of trouble. I am familiar with the Abramoff story because one of the many unsavory episodes in his outrageous career involved lobbying to keep US labor laws out of the CNMI. When the scandals broke, a lot of people were suggesting that I turn my documentary lens on Abramoff. It was tempting - it was a story almost too good to pass up - but I'd already shot most of The Insular Empire and didn't have the resources to start a new film from scratch.

But it appears some other filmmakers recently picked up that ball. Next month will usher in not one but two films about Abramoff -- with distinctly similar titles: Casino Jack (a narrative feature starring Kevin Spacey) and Casino Jack and the United States of Money (a documentary by Alex Gibney).

The Gibney film looks fantastic (the narrative feature still doesn't have a trailer posted). But I'm curious to see how Gibney will treat the issue of the CNMI and its attempt to maintain control over its labor laws. So far, I have yet to see anything about the Abramoff CNMI scandal that addresses the fundamental, underlying problem of the CNMI's political status, or its colonial history. Similarly, it will be interesting to see how the Indian tribes (for whom Abramoff also did a lot of dirty work) are treated in the film. The level of audacity and flamboyance in Abramoff's dealings - including massive bribes and outrageous kickbacks - seems to have overshadowed any real investigation into the root causes that forced these indigenous groups to rely on people like Abramoff to begin with. The jury is still out on whether these new films will finally change that trend.

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