For Executive Producer Donald Glascoff ’67, the Oscar he received Sunday night for best documentary is more than just a pretty statuette — it is also a vindication of his decision to abandon, mid-life, his career as a lawyer and take up public-service filmmaking on a whim.
“Taxi to the Dark Side,” which was written and directed by fellow Eli Alex Gibney ’77, details the experience of an innocent taxi driver tortured and killed at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. It has received wide critical acclaim for its treatment of current policies on torture and interrogation techniques.
“It was a shocker, an out-of-body experience,” Gibney said. “I imagined the possibility, but none of the pundits were picking our camp.”
Glascoff, a lifelong civil-rights advocate, conceived of the project and then turned to Gibney make it happen, Glascoff said.
“I always felt that there was an obligation to do more than represent special interests and make money,” said Glascoff, who spent most of his life as an attorney in the New York area, working for private firms and practicing public-interest litigation, before producing the film.
After more than three decades as a lawyer, Glascoff, interested in the possibility of working in film, ended his legal career a few years ago. He met Gibney through a panel discussion of “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” which Gibney wrote, produced and directed.
As executive producer of “Taxi to the Dark Side,” Glascoff, who has no formal training in the film industry, provided “creative guidance” and raised the money necessary to produce the film, he said.
In contrast to his partner, Gibney has been involved in filmmaking for much of his adult life — nearly 30 years. Beginning in the late 1970s as an editor for fictional film, he has since written, produced and directed numerous documentaries, including “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and “The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” and a TV miniseries entitled “The Sexual Century.”
Gibney said his time at Yale during the ’70s nurtured a growing interest in film.
“What I remember most vividly,” he said, “were all the film societies. Every night you could see a different film.”
The actual process of making the film was not easy, Gibney acknowledged. When the two were starting out, few of those they approached to appear in the film were willing to be involved, since they deemed the subject matter too controversial. With persistence, however, they were able to convince several important sources — including soldiers and Bush administration insiders frustrated with the president’s interrogation techniques — to speak in the film about U.S. torture policies.
“Some people came forward, because they felt they had been scapegoated,” Gibney said.
In addition, Gibney’s father, Frank B. Gibney ’45, provided important encouragement in the making of the film. An interrogator in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he was deeply distressed by the interrogation tactics military questioners were using as part of the war on terrorism.
Gibney’s efforts have paid off. In addition to the Oscar, the film has been nominated for several awards — such as from the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America for best documentary feature and best documentary screenplay, respectively — and received the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Spring 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.
“Whatever your politics, there is no way to escape the truth of this,” Glascoff’s classmate Peter Bonoff ’67 said. “It is brilliant, sober and touching.”
Just prior to winning the Oscar, Gibney was the recipient of an award from the Yale Film Studies Program for his contributions to film culture. According to an e-mail from Professor Charles Musser of the Film Studies Department, the award was extended to Gibney as the “overwhelming choice of the Film Studies faculty and students.”
Only 26 theaters nationwide are currently screening the film, but production company THINKFilm plans to release “Taxi to the Dark Side” to more theaters soon. The film will also be shown on BBC Television within the next few weeks and on HBO this September.