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What documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney learned about Steve Jobs

Leah Yamshon | March 25, 2015
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine hasn't even been widely released yet, and it's already stirring the controversy pot. Early reviews have called it cynical (and similar in tone to Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs), Eddy Cue spoke out against this "mean spirited" film on Twitter, and rumors of Apple employees walking out of the theater have been circulating since the film's premier earlier in March.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine hasn't even been widely released yet, and it's already stirring the controversy pot. Early reviews have called it cynical (and similar in tone to Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs), Eddy Cue spoke out against this "mean spirited" film on Twitter, and rumors of Apple employees walking out of the theater have been circulating since the film's premier earlier in March.

But in quiet a meet-and-greet with the press the day after the film's first screening at the South by Southwest Film festival, director Alex Gibney said he didn't set out to make a negative film — he just wanted to get a better understanding of the world's fascination with this man.

Personal connections 

Gibney, who also directed the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side and the soon-to-be-released Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, decided to take a more personal approach with this film.

"I read Walter [Isaacson]'s book, and I followed Jobs from afar, so I felt connected to him," Gibney said. He narrated the film himself, exploring Jobs's life after seeing the world react to his death in 2011 — but Jobs functions as the de facto narrator of his own story through unfiltered videos and archival footage.

When asked if he actually liked Jobs, Gibney had a mixed response. He was awed by Jobs, but "appalled by his cruelty and his inability to get outside of himself." 

Jobs's "cruelty," as Gibney describes it, was stressed over and over again throughout the documentary. Gibney dedicated a lot of time describing Jobs's need for control: his need to control the press by deciding which writers from which publications would be granted access; his need to be in control of his own paternity and his attempt to distance himself from his first child and her mother, Chrisann Brennan; and how he reacted when Gizmodo got hold of a lost iPhone 4 prototype that had been left in a bar — a major loss of control, for Jobs.

However, it was this need for control that Gibney identified with, in a way.

"I see myself in him, especially in his quest for perfection," he shared.

Jobs's values 

Throughout the film, Gibney questions Jobs's personal values and how that bled into his work at Apple. 

"I don't think [Jobs] got to see that the values of Apple were not the same as Cesar Chavez of even Bill Gates," Gibney said. "He believed in making the world a better place by making better products, and that's it."

Gibney demonstrated this by showcasing Jobs's lack of interest in Foxconn's working conditions and his backdating of company stock options — questionable practices, yet Jobs believed he was making the best decisions for his company.

 

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