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The L: Are you setting out to frame the story for the viewer, to do your own original reporting, or a combination of the two?
SB: One of the advantages of making this type of documentary is that the process is slow and deliberative. The long schedule affords you the time to track down every bit of minutiae from the story, as well as the time to figure out how to frame those facts in a larger context. In Abramoff's story, it was hard to resist relaying all of the incredible details—the fake think tank run by a lifeguard, the jaw-dropping emails, the ties to the mafia and mysterious Russian oil executives. But I hope that the larger problems inherent in trying to make popular democracy work in a government that is addicted to campaign money come through as well.
The L: In addition to relaying the details and structuring a narrative, do you find you're able to move the story forward at all? The Marianas Islands section of the film is an exemplary demonstration of how lobbying works, and how corruption is endemic even in the practice even as it's seemingly law-abiding. The way Abramoff was able to broker deals between local officials and congressmen was to a certain extent a matter of public record—but only if anyone bothered to look. Do you feel like the interviews you conducted with Marianas Island pols constitute additional revelations in the story, or is the primary value that we in the audience are finally hearing about it?
SB: In the case of the Marianas Islands, it is more the latter. I think only a small group of journalists, activists, and Congress members know that Abramoff, with the help of Former Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, protected sweatshop owners in a US territory from American labor laws for many years. Abramoff and DeLay acted in the name of "free market" principles, and their efforts actually provide an example of what completely unregulated markets might look like. I don't want to give it away, but it's more Atlas Slaved than Atlas Shrugged. What is particularly indicative about this episode is that Abramoff did not violate the law. He simply did what he was retained to do, and by Washington's standards, he did it extremely well. In fact, what he did is not so different from what thousands of lobbyists are paid to do today for clients such as Goldman Sachs or Monsanto.