Center for American Progress

Discovery Channel Puts the Brakes on “Taxi to the Dark Side”

Discovery Channel Puts the Brakes on “Taxi to the Dark Side”

Alex Gibney, director of “Taxi to the Dark Side,” talks with Reel Progress about his film’s distribution controversy and the Jack Bauer phenomenon.

Update 2/21/08: HBO Documentary Films announced that they have acquired the domestic television rights for "Taxi to the Dark Side." The film will debut on HBO in September, 2008.

Listen to Reel Progress’ interview with Alex Gibney:

Just as Alex Gibney was celebrating a Best Documentary Feature Oscar nomination for his award-winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” the Discovery Channel management deemed it “too controversial” and dropped their plans to air the film.

The Discovery Channel bought the U.S. television distribution rights for “Taxi” after it won the top prize at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. Gibney was assured by Discovery Channel executives that they were committed to the film and to giving it a prominent broadcast.

Yet Discovery changed its tune when company executives raised fears that airing a controversial film would jeopardize the company’s upcoming public offering. The Discovery Channel, which still controls U.S. broadcast rights, has indicated that it will keep the film off the air unless it can sell the rights for a profit.

Gibney, also the director of “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” told Reel Progress in an interview that very little of this kind of corporate behavior shocks him, but he is “surprised that a network that touts itself as a supporter of documentaries would be so shamelessly craven. This is a film that, in an election year, is of critical interest to the viewing public. What Discovery is doing is tantamount to political censorship.”

A searing indictment of the Bush administration’s policy of detention and interrogation, “Taxi” follows the story of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver who is murdered at the hands of U.S. servicemen at the Bagram Detention Center. The film shines light into the abuse and torture taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Gibney argues that the incidents at Bagram and Abu Ghraib were not due to the actions of a few bad apples, but rather a result of a deliberate policy emanating from the White House.

A.O. Scott of the New York Times said, “If recent American history is ever going to be discussed with the necessary clarity and ethical rigor, this film will be essential.” Lawrence Korb, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress who participated in the panel at the Reel Progress screening of “Taxi,” echoes Scott’s sentiment. “Alex Gibney’s film shows that torture is an ineffective way to gather intelligence and has undermined our military efforts. The public would benefit from knowing this underreported story, and I hope that the Discovery Channel will allow ‘Taxi to the Dark Side’ to see the light of day,” Korb said.

When asked about his thoughts on the popularity of the TV show "24" and torture horror films like "Saw" and "Hostel," while his documentary on real life torture abuses is kept off the air, Gibney answers with a chuckle. He supposes that it’s natural for Americans to take pleasure watching Jack Bauer brutally torture people week after week on "24" because it feels like revenge or retribution for 9/11. “Jack Bauer, in our names, can go and really brutalize the enemies of America.”

Gibney worries that Americans are a bit too comfortable with the idea of torture without really understanding the consequences. He thinks that “everyone was horrified by the pictures at Abu Ghraib. But for some people there is a willingness to say, look, let them do what has to be done, so long as it protects us. But as Alberto Mora, former General Counsel for the Navy says in the film, we fight not only to defend our lives, we fight to defend our principles.”

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Anne Shoup

Associate Director, Press Relations