American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi
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The film is an investigative documentary, in the style of Taxi to the Dark Side and Fahrenheit 9/11. Unlike those films, however, it is told entirely through expert interviewees, favorable and critical, and the testimony of Rice herself. There is no voice-over narration, a technique that heightens the film's objectivity. There are exclusive interviews with three of Rice's most authoritative biographers: Marcus Mabry, an editor at The New York Times and author of Twice As Good: Condoleezza Rice and her path to power; Glenn Kessler, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, diplomatic correspondent at The Washington Post and author of The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy; and Antonia Felix, author of Condi: The Condoleezza Rice Story.
The film tells the story of Rice's life from her birth in 1954 to her 2009 departure from office as Secretary of State, and her return to Stanford University. Rice is a key interviewee in the film: she speaks about her roots in racially explosive Birmingham; her short-lived music career; her fascination with Joseph Stalin and Ronald Reagan; her close friendship with George W. Bush; right up to a defense of her record in government. The film gives voice to numerous supporters of Rice, including both Presidents Bush; her stepmother Clara Bailey Rice; Oprah Winfrey (who remarks that "I've never been more proud to say the word W-O-M-A-N than after meeting Condoleezza Rice"); mentor and later critic, Brent Scowcroft; her former fiancé, Rick Upchurch; John McCain who praises her as "a great American"; former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Dick Cheney; and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The film charts Rice's discovery of her love of politics at the University of Denver, and her pursuit and use of power. The title's reference to Faust echoes allegations made by various interviewees in the film that she sacrificed her principles in exchange for political power. Author Laura Flanders relates how she rolled back affirmative action policies while Stanford University Provost, and how she was such a loyal board member for Chevron (despite its involvement with the Nigerian government in violently repressing Ogoni tribespeople) that they named an oil tanker after her. Her record as National Security Advisor is attacked by CIA Director George Tenet, Counter-Terrorism chief (1992–2003) Richard Clarke and author Philip Shenon. They allege that she ignored various warnings in the spring and summer of 2001 that an Al Qaeda attack was about to happen. Shenon alleges that "it was both incompetence and negligence." Rice responds to these allegations: "I just don't buy the argument that we weren't shaking the trees enough and that something was gonna to fall out that gave us somehow that little piece of information that would have led to connecting all of those dots."
Kessler and Mabry concur that, after 9/11, she abandoned realism and advocacy of a humble foreign policy, and became a neo-conservative idealist (hence the film's subtitle, 'from Condi to Neo-Condi'). With huge political pressure coming from Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to invade Iraq, Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's Chief of Staff, says she deliberately exaggerated the case for war ("we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"). Congressman Robert Wexler says that Rice misled the American public on 56 occasions, which Rice denies: "I did not pump up anything". Eleanor Clift, (Editor of Newsweek) and Richard Ben-Veniste (9/11 Commissioner), point to the many techniques that Rice used – wordplay, filibustering, claims of amnesia – to avoid telling the truth. Investigating her record on race, Marcus Mabry states that it was Hurricane Katrina when black Americans realized she was not fighting their corner. Spike Lee criticizes her for going shoe shopping on Madison Avenue while the levees were breaking. Critics also question her record as Secretary of State, especially her handling of the 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater contractors in her hire. Erica Razook of Amnesty International, states that Rice acted to protect the State Department's $1bn contract with Blackwater by pardoning the killers and offering only $10,000 in compensation. That response, according to US Congressman David Price, inflamed Iraqi anger towards all Americans. Price says: "It contradicts our values. It makes us out to be hypocrites. It puts our military personnel in jeopardy. All I can see is a dereliction of duty. At virtually any level you'd want to assess this, this is a disaster for our country."
The film documents Rice's vigorous support for the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, which she describes as "a necessity because of the War on Terror." Most notably in terms of historical discovery, the film reveals that it was National Security Advisor Rice who directly authorized the CIA to use torture techniques in 'black sites' around the world. Glenn Kessler says: "These 'enhanced interrogation methods' included water-boarding, fingernail extraction, and sleep deprivation. Condi signed off on the orders to the CIA with the words, 'This is your Baby, go do it!'" Richard Clarke concurs: "Rice decided what torture to use on what person." Rice denies these allegations, saying "we did not torture anybody". This statement is then contradicted by interviews with individuals subjected to these interrogation techniques: British detainee Binyam Mohamed describes how he had his penis cut, and acid poured into the wounds; Khalid El-Masri relates how he was drugged, sodomized and imprisoned without charges, an allegation supported by the American Civil Liberties Union Abu Omar describes how he was tied to a wet mattress and electrocuted; and Mamdouh Habib claims he had his fingernails torn out. The film is the first to draw the dots between Rice as NSA, through the CIA, to the actual individuals who underwent the 'enhanced interrogation techniques.' The film was also the first source to reveal the 'black site' countries to which Rice and the CIA sent detainees to be interrogated, including Thailand, Somalia, Italy, Kenya, Ethiopia, Syria, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Macedonia, Egypt, Morocco, Azerbaijan, as well as the 'torture ships' USS Peleliu, USS Bataan, and USS Ashland.
The film originated out of the musical-docu-tragi-comedy Courting Condi, which was also directed by Sebastian Doggart. Some of the same interviewees feature in both films. Aside from that, the movies are different, both stylistically and in terms of the more updated biographical and investigative content of American Faust. A rough cut of the film screened by Amnesty International at Stanford University on February 3, 2009, to coincide with Rice's return to Stanford University. The film screened at the Starz Denver Film festival on November 21, 2009 and received a pre-theatrical release on DVD and download-to-own with the pioneering home cinema distributor IndiesDirect on December 9, 2009. It was released theatrically in January 2010, with a premiere at the Denver Starz FilmCenter.
The film features a score by composer Cheryl B. Engelhardt, with additional scoring by legendary guitarist Gary Lucas. Uniquely for a political documentary, the score is to be performed live alongside the actual film by Lucas and Engelhardt.
The movie won the Jury Prize for best feature documentary and the Golden Trophy at the Ismailia International Film festival in Egypt. It won runner-up for Best Documentary at both the Marbella International Film Festival in Spain and the Treasure Coast International Film Festival in Florida, USA. It was nominated for Best Documentary at both the New Hampshire Film Festival, and the Swansea Bay Film Festival in Wales. It was nominated for the prestigious Maysles Brothers Award for documentary at the Starz Denver Film Festival. It won the Golden Palm Award for Best Documentary at the Mexico International Film Festival.
Laura Flanders of GritTV wrote, "American Faust makes the case that the correct word to be spelling Condoleezza Rice is probably 'torturer'… The film paints a chilling picture of Rice's role in the administrations of the Bush family, and also in our lives… This film is really very good... I really appreciated, on behalf of everybody I think, that you're taking a look at Condoleezza today, not just letting her disappear into the sands of history…. Torture is at the heart of the film and I think it's what makes the film so really strong."
Film Intuition wrote, "Exceptional and shocking. A polished, traditional documentary, Faust gives us unprecedented access and insider insight into Rice's role in Washington including the failure to pass along warning memos pre 9/11 to Bush's desk as well as her involvement in approving devastating torture interrogation techniques and shipping off suspects to other countries where more extreme measures were in dominant practice. Extremely timely and vital for American viewers to explore, Faust leaves us with both the question of how a person can change so much and additionally, wondering whether Rice or other staffers are guilty of war crimes. A triumph in independent documentary filmmaking precisely because it took the personal autobiographical feel of the first “festival circuit” feature as a jumping off point, American Faust is on par with hard-hitting documentaries including No End in Sight, Maxed Out, Rethink Afghanistan, and Fahrenheit 9/11, and ensures that Sebastian Doggart is a name you won't soon forget."
Nathan Havey of Huffington Post wrote, "The Must-See Film Premiere in Denver This Weekend. It was Condoleezza Rice who ordered the CIA to use torture techniques including genital mutilation, fingernail extraction and electrocution in countries across the world. This is the chilling accusation made by documentarian Sebastian Doggart in his new film, American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi. The Denver Film Festival has secured what is sure to be the controversial, but Template:Sic, must-see world premiere screening of the film scheduled for this weekend. This film is Doggart's follow-up to his critically acclaimed (and first-ever musical docu-tragi-comedy) Courting Condi. His scathing portrayals of Rice focus largely on the human rights consequences of Bush administration policies, responsibility for which Doggart's films lay at the feet of the former Secretary of State. "Prosecutor John Durham is investigating the wrong people," says filmmaker Sebastian Doggart. "The CIA agents who carried out these interrogations were acting under orders which came directly from the chair of the Group of Principals, Condoleezza Rice. Under the principle of command responsibility, she is accountable." The legacy of Condeleezza Rice and the Bush Administration is still too fresh for the benefit of historical perspective, but as the Obama Administration fights to close GITMO, find its footing in Afghanistan, and halt the use of 'enhanced interrogation' techniques, many of their policies continue to dominate the national scene. American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi offers a no-holds-barred perspective on how we got to where we are - and who is responsible."
Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress, wrote, "Prepare for a body blow when you watch 'American Faust', Sebastian Doggart’s powerful new documentary about George Bush’s confidante and mastermind, Condoleezza Rice. The onslaught of chilling facts builds with relentless momentum in a narrative that is nothing short of Greek tragedy. The visuals, soundtrack, and interviews have been crafted for maximum impact; this is a documentary not soon forgotten—a masterpiece that should be required viewing in every school and home."
Film Snobbery wrote, "The first third or more of this film is about Condoleezza Rice's childhood and academic career, as well as her early entry into politics. This part of the documentary is exactly how docs should be shot, and would make veteran documentary directors like Albert Maysles proud... Regardless if you are a Republican or a Democrat (hell, Condi was both), you would do well to take a peek at this documentary as it gives some great insight into the political process from several points of view close to Condoleezza, and from moments that have been recorded throughout her career... It is certainly shot well, it keeps attention focused (which can sometimes be hard to do with a documentary), and makes you both sympathize with and hate the subject all within the span of an hour and a half."
Philip Sherwell of The Daily Telegraph wrote, "With Hillary Clinton sworn in as her successor at the State Department, Condoleezza Rice has signed up for representation by the William Morris Agency talent agency and headed back to her academic alma mater, Stanford, to lecture, teach, write books and play the piano. But a British film-maker is determined to make her return to campus in California rather less smooth than she might have wished. On Tuesday night, the college's Amnesty International chapter will host the screening of a new documentary 'American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi', made by director Sebastian Doggart. Based on testimony from both supporters and critics, the film makes a number of damning accusations about her time as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Most explosive is the coverage of her role as chair of the group of 'Principals' (Vice-President Dick Cheney and then defense secretary Donald Rumseld were also members) who allegedly signed off on CIA "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as water-boarding for terror suspects. That technique has been described as torture by defeated Republican presidential candidate John McCain and new Attorney General Eric Holder, among many others. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell who was Secretary of State at the time of those Principals meetings, tells Doggart: "I think Americans should be appalled that Dr Rice was sitting there giving the orders to water-board." ABC News ran a piece last year on Rice's role as chair of the Principal's meetings during the interrogation discussions but the US media has seemed less than interested in putting her involvement under the microscope."
Coleen Rowley (FBI Special Agent-turned-Whistleblower and 2002 Time Magazine Person of the Year) wrote in Huffington Post, "This is a must-see documentary on several different levels. Sebastian Doggart's award-winning film explains in depth how the ten-year-old girl who confidently told her father she would someday be in the White House got there and what happened when she did. The investigative documentary has no narration but is instead told entirely through interview clips of Condoleezza herself, her family, former fiancé Rick Upchurch, professors, mentors like Brent Scowcroft, colleagues like Richard Clarke and Lawrence Wilkerson, her supporters and her critics, and several authors and experts. Three of Rice's best biographers backstop the timeline from Rice's birth in 1954 to her 2009 departure from the office of Secretary of State: Marcus Mabry, an editor at The New York Times and author of Twice As Good: Condoleezza Rice and her path to power; Glenn Kessler, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, diplomatic correspondent at The Washington Post and author of The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy; and Antonia Felix, author of Condi: The Condoleezza Rice Story. The film's progression draws viewers into the personal side of Rice's Faustian bargain, as well informing them about key portions of the Bush Administration's role instituting torture tactics in violation of international and national laws. The importance of the documentary for educating people at this moment can't be over-emphasized as the Obama Administration and the U.S. court system continue to hear calls for justice and accountability just as Condi denies it all, saying "we did not torture anyone" and embarks on her national speaking campaign to rewrite history. We unfortunately did not watch American Faust in the Twin Cities until three weeks after Condi made a big-buck appearance here, attempting to revise history at a fundraiser for the Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Human rights activists would be far better equipped to counter-act Condoleezza's continuing cover-up if they could get the truth out through a public showing of the film before her visits. Rice might remember (as I vaguely do since we were both born in 1954) the popular TV show This Is Your Life that ran from 1952 - 1961. Let's just say that it's a safe guess the 50s' first reality show tried to avoid problem areas to the extent possible and never would have dared to try profiling a former high government official complicit in torture or other war crimes. That however, is the singular audacity of American Faust. Since hardly anything shocks anymore on current "reality TV," and the Bush Administration's "Steel Magnolia" managed to live up to her description when the 9-11 Commission and Senate Committees asked their toughest questions of her, I couldn't help imagining how Sebastian Doggart's impeccably researched documentary functions as a new type of This Is Your Life trying to wring some emotion and realization of the truth out of its guest star. It could happen someday that the woman who gave the OK to CIA waterboarding and other torture, could face something even more painful: a real criminal inquiry. British authorities recently forced former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to answer hard questions about his role in ginning up the invasion of Iraq implicating Bush officials like Rice and more and more information could come out in the Binyam Mohamed lawsuit about Rice's role in approving "extraordinary renditions" and terrible tortures conducted in black sites. Ultimately, as all who watch Doggart's documentary will appreciate, the truth of Rice's Faustian bargain is actually much more fascinating than her attempts to revise history. And that's one of the reasons that history and truth will not be so easily swept aside and are bound to prevail in this tragic case. Members of university history departments will therefore top the list of those invited to the Twin Cities premiere we're organizing for American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi. If you're not in the Twin Cities, organize your own showing! Better yet, use this great documentary as a preface to academic debate or panel discussion. You don't have to wait for a public showing but can easily now buy your own DVD or watch the film on-line through Indiesdirect.com. While you're at it, get an extra copy to share with your local U.S. Attorney."
Bugs Burnett wrote in Hour, "The Montreal International Black Film Festival has greater English-language programming, especially notable in the excellent film, the Canadian premiere of 'American Faust: From Condo to Neo-Condi', a damning indictment of Condoleezza Rice and her role in the Iraq war. Award-winning director Sebastian Doggart's doc starts off as a sympathetic portrait of the political rise of Condoleezza Rice, but 20 minutes in, the gloves come off and Rice is quickly portrayed as a power-hungry hawk who keeps her eyes on the prize, no matter the cost. One cannot help but agree by film's end that Rice is a war criminal. A brave film which, while damning white oppressors - something that is easy to do - also exposes negative forces within the black community, something which even today remains difficult to do."
Shanece's Compass wrote, "The documentary "American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi" illustrates a different side of Condoleezza Rice than the one often portrayed in the media. The film is by no means pro-Condi. In fact, it is balanced between Rice's successes and failures, strengths and faults. The profile is quite compelling and intelligent, transitioning between personal one-on-one interviews, video clips, graphic timelines, and photos. It eloquently presents the transformation of Condoleezza from a little girl growing up and dreaming in Birmingham, Alabama to a young woman thriving in her academic endeavors to the political powerhouse breaking barriers and setting new heights. After watching this film, Rice will no doubt become the new "it" woman of choice in college essays. Move over Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt."
Ron Henderson, Founding Director, Starz Denver Film Festival & Denver Film Society, wrote, "An exceptional, enormously important film -- one that, hopefully, will contribute to the historical judgment of the ill-conceived policies of the Bush administration and her role in formulating and executing those policies."
Eli Sanders, of The Stranger, wrote "She chose power over love," says Condoleezza Rice's ex-fiancé, whom she ditched at the almost-altar in order to fly off to D.C. and start her power-climbing. "She picked empire and colonialism over being a concert pianist," says one of her ex-mentors. Welcome to the greatest hits against the woman who taught George W. Bush where Iraq was and then helped him invade it without cause, destroying America's reputation and her own in the process. These hits are delivered with relish and venom—by a who's who of people who made Rice what she used to be before she became something else—and by the end of the unsparing documentary you will actually feel sorry for her, which is quite a cinematic achievement.
Jeff Shannon of Seattle Times wrote, "The title says it all: This scathing documentary presents former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a ruthlessly ambitious power-seeker who plotted her course to the White House from the age of 10, then made a devil's deal once she got there... Filmmaker Sebastian Doggart gathers excoriating testimonials from those who've seen Condi's dark side, damning evidence that exposes Rice as a tragic figure who betrayed her values in the process of selling her soul."
Rick DeMint of Portroids wrote, "Condoleezza Rice is a war criminal. And she has gotten away with it, whether out of fear of her power by those who should be pressing charges, or by indifference to the atrocities she initiated/allowed/ordered. After seeing this documentary film, which I recommend you do, you cannot plead ignorance any more of her involvement in torture, pardoning of the Blackwater killers, and starting a war and continuing said war under false pretenses. The film, by director Sebastian Doggart, takes a more objective approach, tracking Condoleezza's life from her early days in segregated Alabama all the way to her time as US Secretary of State. Along the timeline, as the Faustian title suggests, Condoleezza makes decisions, takes opportunities, that increase her power while her ideals drop off one by one, seemingly without emotion. There is no narration in this documentary. It relies solely on interviews, testimonials, news clips, and expert opinions of people in Rice's life, with both positive and negative impact. Condoleezza's life is such an interesting story about an intelligent and compelling woman, and if it was fiction I would love the twists it takes. The problem is that it is real and it is horrifying. Left unchecked, power leads to corruption, and in the name of protection, through pre-emptive strikes and enhanced torture techniques, to the demise of any moral standing our country could wish to have. This is a well-made and compelling film which I would recommend everyone watch. But don't just watch it. Act upon it. Write to your Congressperson. Demand action be taken. Commit to seeing this documentary. The decisions, past and present, the people in government make ripple through the world. The bad decisions, some made for personal gain, some for seemingly the right reasons but with the wrong tactics, can accumulate into a tidal wave of hatred which we may not be able to stop. We need to act now and hold accountable those who made the decisions, by using the laws we have established so these crimes should not have happened in the first place. Otherwise, what are we but complicit? You can buy or download this film from indiesdirect.com starting December 2, 2009 or find out more at americanfaust.com. Also, you can become a fan of American Faust on Facebook to stay up to date with the film's developments."
Gillian G. Gaar of the Seattle Pop Culture Examiner, wrote "The first half hour of this documentary feels like an infomercial about former National Security Advisor/Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But then her true colors are revealed; this is one determined woman who never took her eye off the ball, switching political parties as needed (it will probably surprise some to learn that Rice has been a democrat) in the interest of advancing her career. But the question of what she may have lost in the process lies at the heart of Doggart's searing film, most tellingly when the issue of what is or isn't torture is discussed (a part that will make more sensitive viewers squeamish). The larger question — is it worth sacrificing principles in the pursuit of power? — is left for the viewer to decide."
World Wide Work wrote, "American Faust is a thoroughly researched 89-minute documentary about Condoleezza Rice from her childhood during the civil rights era in Birmingham to her authorization of illegal torture during the Bush administration. It shows her turning her back on affirmative action for others after she herself benefited from it, lying to the American public about Iraq, and lending P.R. cover to Chevron to the point that it named an oil tanker after her. Today, Stanford University students are trying to get her ousted as a professor because of her role in illegal torture.
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