Vassar Quarterly - Spring 2018 - 51
Clockwise from left, courtesy of NrDC / Adachi Pimentel / courtesy of Ben Sozanski
THE WORLD OF FBI
Since 9/11, the federal government has
leaned heavily on a controversial tool to
catch terrorists: confidential informants.
The practice has been brought to light by
the film (T)error, directed by David Felix
Sutcliffe '02 and Lyric Cabral. It's the first
documentary to place filmmakers behind
the scenes during an active FBI counterterrorism sting operation. The film, which
premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in
2015 and was broadcast on PBS, won a 2016
Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigative
Sutcliffe and Cabral gained unprecedented access to the FBI's work when informant
Saeed Torres allowed them to film him over
six months as he attempted to ensnare a
suspect in Pittsburgh by befriending him
and getting him to reveal incriminating
details. Torres, who had worked as a paid
FBI informant since 1991, became friendly
with Cabral when they were neighbors years
earlier. Torres didn't tell his FBI handlers
about the film.
Sutcliffe says the filmmakers wanted to
expose the "problematic tactics and profound ethical questions" raised by the use
of informants; the title is an allusion to
"error" and the film suggests the FBI can
be overzealous in gathering evidence for
counterterrorism investigations against
Muslims who may not pose a true risk to
the United States.
Sutcliffe's first documentary film, Adama,
focused on a Muslim teenager swept into a
terrorism investigation when she was 16.
His study of her case and others led him to
believe that "most terrorist plots announced
in the United States were actually the result
of agent provocateur entrapment stings."
Sutcliffe says he became "sensitized to
issues of race" growing up in a mixed-race
family in High Falls, NY. At Vassar, where
his mother worked, he was inspired to
pursue documentary filmmaking after an
internship with noted filmmaker Ralph
Arlyck. He also met Christopher St. John
'03, who, as a producer on the film, helped
(T)error get made.
The film is available on Netflix.
-Jennifer Greenstein Altmann '91
Editors are among the unsung heroes in
the film industry; their talents can mean
the difference between a mediocre film
and a great one. So it was with OJ: Made in
America, the critically acclaimed documentary that chronicled the rise and fall of
sports super-star Orenthal James "OJ"
Simpson, who rose to prominence as a star
football player for the Buffalo Bills and later
transitioned to a career as an actor.
Film editor Ben Sozanski '05 and colleagues Bret Granato and Maya Mumma
earned a 2017 Emmy Award for their editing
work on the film. In addition to the Emmy,
the editors have earned five other awards
for their work on the documentary.
The ESPN project, hailed by Wired
magazine as "a masterful feat of editing,"
was presented as a five-part mini-series
that included interviews and news footage,
as well as archival audio, photographs, and
video. Sozanki and his co-editors spent
eight months combing through the materials.
Sozanski, who grew up in a suburb of
Buffalo, says he was only peripherally aware
of Simpson's fame and notoriety before
working on the movie-after all, he was
less than 10 years old when OJ was tried
for the murder of his wife Nicole Brown
Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Many people convinced of Simpson's
guilt have been perplexed about the "not
guilty" verdict in the trial, but after watching hours and hours of footage of Simpson,
Sozanski says: "I was really struck by what
a powerful force charisma is. In light of the
information that became public about OJ
through his criminal trial, it was wild to
see people who thought they felt one way
about him be completely turned around in
Sozanski says film professor Jamie
Meltzer (no longer at Vassar) helped him
get his first film job after school, but his big
break came when director Alison Ellwood
hired him to work on the movie History of
the Eagles, about the band and its catalogue
of songs like "Tequila Sunrise" and "Hotel
Since then he's had a role in such documentaries as Before the Flood, a film about
climate change on which he collaborated
with Leonardo DiCaprio; and a two-part
documentary titled Sinatra: All or Nothing
at All. In the fall of 2017, he completed work
on Rolling Stone Magazine: Stories from the
Edge, an HBO documentary that examines
the last 50 years of American music, politics,
and popular culture through the lens of the
influential magazine. All in all, IMDb credits
Sozanski as having worked in various
capacities on 21 films.
He is currently working with director
Anna Moot-Levin '07 and her co-director,
Laura Green, on their film The Providers,
which follows small-town doctors as they
struggle to fight addiction and other lifethreatening conditions.
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