Alex Gibney.
Alex Gibney.

At their annual awards ceremony last Sunday, The International Documentary Association (IDA) presented Academy Award and Emmy Award winning director Alex Gibney with the 2013 Career Achievement Award. Gibney directed two films released this year involving divisive public figures. "The Armstrong Lie" focused disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, and "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks" profiled controversial media figure Julian Assange. Previous recipients of the IDA Career Achievement Award have been given to Michael Moore, Werner Herzog, Barbara Kopple and Errol Morris. Gibney has granted permission to Indiewire to publish his speech, which you can read below:

This Lifetime Achievement Award  [actually it is called a "Career Achievement Award"] is a great honor.  Thank you.  But I have to confess it's also a little scary: a reminder of mortality. So, when I got the call, I was both thankful and honored, yet I also wanted to respond, like the pet shop owner in the Monty Python skit dismissing the rigor mortis of a stiff parrot, "he's not dead, he's just resting."

The Armstrong Lie

In thinking about my role as a documentarian, I recalled another bird story told to me by my erstwhile stepfather, William Sloane Coffin, Jr.  He liked to recount a time when, as an orderly in a mental institution, he was roaming the grounds.  Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted an overweight pigeon, flying unsteadily, heading toward a patient.  Once overhead, the bird unburdened itself and dropped a massive load on the patient’s head.   Flustered, my stepfather moved to help the man and said, "stay right there; I’ll go get some toilet paper." 

"It's too late," replied the patient, as he scanned the sky with a melancholy look in his eye.  "The bird has flown away…"

I think of myself -- and some of my documentary colleagues --  as a bit like the patient, more than a little crazy, but with a special take on everyday life and a powerful sense of wonder.

Truth is, we are lucky: we get paid to learn. 

I've learned a lot.  I started out cutting exploitation trailers.  I remember one in particular.  It was for the TV version of "Shock Waves," a film about mutant Nazis who rise up from the ocean floor to terrorize sunbathing vacationers.