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The Brooklyn Papers: Ready for a close-up

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Posted by GET NY on 06:07:59 08/02/05

Ready for a close-up
Noted filmmaker focuses on Hynes, O'Hara

John O'Hara and his lawyer, Barry M. Fallick, are filmed by documentary cameraman outside Brooklyn Supreme Court Wednesday. Film will focus on O'Hara's conviction for voter fraud and subsequent battle to clear his name.

By Jotham Sederstrom
The Brooklyn Papers

An award-winning documentary filmmaker, whose previous work includes exposes of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Enron, has his sights set on Brooklyn, in particular District Attorney Charles Hynes.

Following up this year's "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," filmmaker Alex Gibney said that he had already amassed hours of footage for a documentary starring John Kennedy O'Hara, the Sunset Park man convicted of voter fraud six years ago.

The film, he said, intends to follow the former perennial political candidate as he struggles to reverse his conviction, which O'Hara maintains was ordered by Hynes as a favor to Park Slope Assemblyman James Brennan.

To Hynes and his allies, however, the as-yet-untitled documentary couldn't have come at a worse time: Gibney said that while a long shot, the documentary could be finished in time for release just before the Democratic primary in September, where Hynes for the first time in his 16 years as DA faces a crowded field of challengers.

"I think its an important story with national implications," said Gibney, who is also following former Hynes challenger Sandra Roper, who last month pulled out of the race and instead will run for a civil court judgeship.

"The larger story is how do citizens make a difference, and how do governments get entrenched in ways that defy political stereotypes," said the filmmaker.

Well respected in the genre, Gibney has snatched an Emmy and the prestigious Dupont-Columbia Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism since founding his company, Jigsaw Productions, more than two decades ago. More recently, he took home awards from the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival for writing and producing the 2002 documentary, "The Trials of Henry Kissinger."

When told about the project, a spokesman for Hynes sighed and then said he had not been approached by Gibney.

"We know nothing about any documentary being filmed,' the spokesman said.

It would not be the first time Hynes reached a nationwide audience. In December, the national literary and opinion journal Harper's published a 7,500-word article detailing the case made by Hynes against O'Hara and alleging political motivation in the prosecution, which the DA's office undertook three times.

It was that report that turned Gibney on to the case.

O'Hara was in Brooklyn Supreme Court downtown this week on a motion to have his conviction overturned based on evidence that alleges Hynes' prosecution of him was politically motivated. He said of Gibney, "He's taken documentaries and made them into major motion picture events. He's turned them into real commercial successes. And that just may help in getting this thing overturned."


Although he has been filming O'Hara since January, Gibney said he was still unsure what direction the project would take. Fluent in both television and film, the New Jersey resident said that he hadn't decided if the documentary would be best suited for the big screen or, say, the Public Broadcasting System.

The Enron documentary, said Gibney, played in 1,200 theaters nationwide, to audiences who called the film "shocking."



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