The expository documentary was met with obstacles at every turn. Check out our conversation with Alex to hear about the crazy journey.
Whenever one embarks on the journey to create a film, there’s always a story involved about the difficulties during filming. As expected, such is the case with Alex Gibney’s latest documentary Zero Days. Considering the documentary deals with cyber warfare and the secrecy involved among governments as they attempt to create and develop the fourth dimension of warfare in secret, there were certainly some difficulties.
From the lack available information to the abnormally large amount of officials who were unable to comment on stuxnet or any other such operation. Even though operations were blown, the shroud of secrecy remained. In addition to that, to explain a very technical issue as well as present something as plain as code as the subject of a film was strife with issues of its own. Check out the conversation with Alex to hear his side as to why he choose this topic, which was difficult to portray visually and textually.
Where did the idea for the film first come from?
Gibney: Honestly, I’d read a little bit about it, it seemed like a pretty significant event but it seemed like it was something that wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. Mark Shmuger, who had been a producer of my film “We Steal Secrets”, about Julian Assange, was very encouraging about doing the story so I decided to dig into it. It was not something I knew a lot about but sometimes that’s a good reason to do it.
Were you concerned about the topic being not as visual as others?
Gibney: Yes. I once did a film about Enron and I broke cardinal rule number one A of the film making handbook which is never make a film about accounting. In this case, also, never make a film about computer code. But I figured that would be the challenge because the code itself is the main character so we worked very hard with the graphics company to bring that character to life.
Have you had any response from the U.S government to your film?
Gibney: Not officially. We just prior to the premiere at the Berlin film festival, via David Sanger, we did reach out to the ODNI to let them know we were going to be leaking information in the film about Nitro Zeus and gave them the opportunity to make an argument as why we shouldn’t. They weren’t happy about it, but they didn’t make any argument about why they shouldn’t.
One of the most frustrating things as journalist is seeing so many people saying they can’t comment. Was there any moment that you thought this film couldn’t happen?
Gibney: Yes. That’s why I say in the film I was really getting pissed off. I was, but in this case everybody can understand it was a covert operation and people aren’t going to talk about covert operations. The operation has been blown. Everybody knew about stuxnet. Everybody agreed it was Israel and the United States who conducted the operation. I couldn’t even get officials to say that stuxnet even existed. So there was a sort of emperor’s new clothes quality that I found particularly frustrating in this context. And that ended up being a part of the subject of the film itself because it’s the offensive cyber weapons and the strategy of pursing offensive cyber weapons as a deterrent rather than a defense combined with the idea that all of that would be kept secret. It’s a little bit like Doctor Strangelove. So the secrecy itself was causing a real danger and that then became one of the themes of the film.