Christopher Olgiati is an award-winning television director and producer. Most of his career has been with the BBC in London.
Sinatra: Dark Star, for BBC ONE and French, German and U.S. co-producers, was "stylish superb magnificent in detail and execution, a thrilling, noireish festival", according to the British press.
Critics called Nazi Gold, about Holocaust survivors' search for money missing in Swiss banks, "profoundly moving ... majestically directed ... explosive ... stunning ... monumental."
The Nightrider (U.S. title Southern Justice), for the BBC and HBO, about the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, won two CableACE awards in Los Angeles and the Grand Prize and Gold Medal at the New York Festival. Reviewers found it "superb... literally devastating ... potent ... seductive ... spine-tingling ... fascinating ... a brooding, moody gem."
Other films include We Can Keep You Forever, about American POWs left behind in Vietnam, also awarded the Grand Prize in New York; Two Weeks in Winter, a drama set in Poland before the fall of communism starring Britain's Jonathan Pryce ("compelling, moving docudrama," according to the New York Times); and Marilyn Monroe: Say Goodbye to the President - now reversioned on DVD - for BBC, CTV Canada, Network Ten Australia and TBS Tokyo. Critics said it was "filmed with brilliance ... brilliantly directed ... slicker than Crisco on glass."
To the London Daily Telegraph, The Dream Dealer, for the BBC and WGBH, about the worldwide hunt for drug dealer Howard Marks, was "the most exhilarating documentary of the year." British and American critics saw "dazzlingly-good imagery ... globe-trotting filmic virtuosity." It was "cinematic, stunning ... (Olgiati is) one of our most stylish television directors."
Mafia Wars, co-produced by the BBC and CBS, the story of the Mafia's 'Godfather of Two Worlds,' seen in the U.S. and thirty-eight other countries, was to the London Times "a triumph," and to the Los Angeles Times "a showcase of dazzling documentary form." Other critics found it "immensely stylish ... stunning ... TV history in the making ... extraordinary and fascinating ... highly original ... roller coaster entertainment, a Hollywood calling card."
updated November 2006
Frank Sinatra was the essence of cool - the first pop idol, the first entertainer to trigger mass hysteria. He seduced impossibly gorgeous women. He was an American icon.
But his career was partly
made - and nearly broken - by the Mafia. He was closer to Mafia
chiefs than almost anyone imagined. In his glamorous heyday Sinatra
was courted by politicians. The mob saw him as a potential link
to the White House. Bitterly disappointed when he failed to get
JFK to go easy on organised crime, they sent him the severed,
bloody head of a lamb. Did such a supremely talented man really
need the dark power of the Mafia, its threats and its violence?
For decades, Sinatra tried to hide his ties to the mob. This
is the story that in his lifetime could never have been told.
Olgiati's superb film ... compelling, stylish ... feels like
a movie ... glided effortlessly between Sinatra's on- and off-screen
Did a best-selling author fake his story of a horrifying childhood in Nazi concentration camps? Binjamin Wilkomirski claimed to be the child victim of medical experiments by Dr. Mengele. In Auschwitz and Majdanek, he had seen horrors beyond imagination: starving babies eating their own fingers. His book, Fragments, translated into twelve languages, was hailed as a classic of Holocaust literature.
Until another writer began to probe his past. Far from being a hero, he suspected, Wilkomirski was a fraud. He had invented his whole story. He had only ever been to Auschwitz as a tourist. He wasn't even Jewish.
Who was telling the truth?
Wilkomirski angrily insisted his memories were real. In Latvia,
Poland, Switzerland and the United States, Truth & Lies
unravelled the mysterious past of Binjamin Wilkomirski, a victim
"Dazzling and fascinating" Hollywood Reporter
Say Goodbye to the President tells how organised crime figures circled Marilyn in the months before she died, bugging her phone, looking for evidence of her involvement with Jack and Bobby Kennedy.
"There isn't a story in the last fifty years to better this tale of passion and politics, pride and prejudice" Daily Mail, London
For the Mafia, the "Marilyn tapes" would be ammunition against the Kennedy White House. Say Goodbye reconstructs the last hours of Marilyn's life, and the strange delay between the discovery of her body and Peter Lawford's call to police.
"Filmed with a brilliance that gives the film its chief appeal ... Olgiati has found a visual style somewhere between animation and actuality - a finger dialling, pink lips whispering" The London Times
With evidence from those closest to Marilyn and the Kennedys, the film shows that Bobby Kennedy visited Marilyn on the afternoon of her death, and that Lawford's delay in alerting the police was to give the President's brother time to leave Los Angeles.
"Absolutely riveting" Daily Express, London
Say Goodbye to the
a definitive account of an extraordinary time. As Variety put
it, the film is "cast with legendary figures, all of
whom met terrible deaths that remain shrouded in mystery."
A bank guard flees Switzerland in fear of his life ... Auschwitz survivors accuse Swiss banks of stealing their birthright ... a frightened witness claims Swiss involvement in the Holocaust ...
Nazi Gold, for BBC and PBS, controversially
examined Switzerland's relationship with Nazi Germany, and why
it turned Jewish refugees into the arms of the SS.
agreed: Nazi Gold was "chilling ... vivid ...
compelling ... skilled ... haunting ... riveting."
viewer response ...
Hidden in a honeysuckle bush, a gunman waits for his target: civil rights leader Medgar Evers ...
He squeezes the trigger and watches Evers fall. Then he vanishes into the night. It is June 1963, in Mississippi.
Evers' widow accuses white
supremacist Byron De La Beckwith of the murder. For thirty years,
she hunts Beckwith and monitors his rantings: 'God put the
white man on earth to rule over the dusky races.' She watches
a Mississippi court let Beckwith go free, and discovers how top
state officials secretly helped him. The Nightrider tells
the story of Medgar Evers, who dared defy the hooded nightriders
of the Ku Klux Klan, and of a murder that - by reviving the ghosts
of the past - puts modern Mississippi to the test.
HOWARD MARKS. Alias Mr Nice. Drugs trafficker. Fugitive. Attended Balliol College, Oxford. Famous for his Elvis Presley impression ...
Marks is an underworld myth. For years he has eluded the law. His wealth and charm are legendary. He is untouchable: a middle-class outlaw.
He comes to obsess, and repel, Craig Lovato of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Lovato tracks him from Madrid to Manila. He persuades Lord Anthony Moynihan, a renegade English peer who runs massage parlours in steamy Asian cities, to betray Marks by recording their private conversations on a hidden tape recorder.
"Mr Nice" is
trapped, but the $100 million fortune the DEA believes he has
stashed in offshore bank accounts eludes them.
British and American critics
saw "dazzlingly-good imagery ... globe-trotting filmic
virtuosity." It was a "masterful piece of economical
yet versatile writing ... cinematic, stunning ... (Olgiati is)
one of our most stylish television directors."
At the lowest point of
his campaign to win the Democratic nomination, Bill Clinton,
Governor of Arkansas, faces an agonising decision: whether to
execute a man on death row whose brain injury has left him with
the mind of a child. Rickey Ray Rector howls like a dog, and
believes that chickens and alligators are invading his cell.
Just before the New Hampshire primary, Rector is executed. His
family insists it is "so Clinton can send a signal: that
he's tough on crime."
The son of wealthy, middle-class
parents, Michael Townley is an unlikely assassin. Yet he serves
a secret police organisation as ruthless as the Gestapo, and
pursues his victims through Europe and the Americas. To catch
him, the FBI mounts its biggest-ever international manhunt. In
the words of his FBI nemesis, Townley is "the perfect assassin,
the very essence of evil ... a man so blindly obedient he will
kill anyone, anywhere, without hesitation." Townley is an
agent of DINA, the secret police of Chile. His target is a foe
of General Pinochet, exiled in Washington DC. He enters the United
States with Nazi nerve gas hidden in a bottle of Chanel Number
As the free trade union
Solidarity struggles against the communist government in Poland,
authorities impose martial law: "a state of war." At
the Wujek coalmine in Katowice, the miners' leader is arrested.
Helped by a priest (played by Britain's Jonathan Pryce), the
miners rebel and barricade themselves in. ZOMO riot police attack.
Tanks smash through the mine walls and crush the barricades.
Seven men are shot, but the strength of Solidarity survives ...
Reenactment of the Jeffrey
MacDonald murder case. Did the Green Beret doctor stab his wife
and young daughters to death, or - as MacDonald claims - did
a murderous hippy gang on LSD invade his quarters at Fort Bragg,
home of the Special Forces? False Witness explores the
era of Vietnam, satanic cults and Charles Manson, when hippies
joined soldiers home from the war to create a bizarre and violent
drug culture at the gates of Fort Bragg.
Sam Giancana: The Gangster Who Dreamed
The story of Sam Giancana,
beginning with the St Valentine's Day massacre, ending with the
Kennedy assassination, is the ultimate story of organised crime
in America. Once Al Capone's hit man, Giancana helped put JFK
in the White House, and - his family claims - later felt so betrayed
by the President that he took part in a Mafia plot to kill him
Tommaso Buscetta is a
Mafia legend: the architect of million-dollar heroin deals, an
ice-cold killer. In a war with Mafia enemies, his family is murdered.
In revenge, Buscetta vows to "destroy the Mafia." He
will reveal all: the deals, the political links, the high-level
protection. For the U.S. and Italian governments, he will become
the deadliest weapon ever against organised crime. As hundreds
of Mafiosi are arrested, the Mafia determines that Buscetta must
be silenced ...
Jimi Hendrix: The Man They Made God
Jimi Hendrix was a black guitarist with a white audience, an icon of peace who once believed in the Vietnam war. Born in America, made in sixties London, he was both star and victim - of predatory promoters, and of fans who saw him as a god. Crippled by their expectations, he tried to escape. But his personal manager brought him back at gunpoint. Night after night, the crowd wanted him to burn his guitar, to go to the edge. And he did, on a diet of pills and LSD.
Before his death at twenty-seven
in a basement room in West London, frustrated and desperate,
he talked about not living much longer. He yearned to play a
new kind of music but fans didn't want to listen. The Man
They Made God unpeels the short, troubled life of a self-doubting
virtuoso, a misfit on whom others hung their dreams.
Vietnam: Children of the Dust
When America withdrew
from Vietnam, a human legacy was left behind: tens of thousands
of Amerasian children, fathered by U.S. servicemen. The North
Vietnamese called them the "dust of life." They were
the unwanted detritus of war, reminders of a time when Vietnamese
women sold themselves to the enemy. Vietnam: Children of the
Dust follows an American father back to Saigon, to find the
boy he never knew. Other reunions are less happy. Some Amerasian
children brought to the United States are no more welcome than
they were in Vietnam. Spurned by their GI fathers, they are products
of a war the U.S. prefers to forget.
We Can Keep You Forever
Were hundreds of American
POWs knowingly abandoned in South East Asia? With declassified
intelligence documents and evidence from an NSA analyst who chose
to break ranks, We Can Keep You Forever challenges President
Nixon's bland assurance that "our boys are back home, safe
in America." As Henry Kissinger acknowledges, live prisoners
were left behind in Laos. What hard information did U.S. intelligence
possess, why was the United States powerless to retrieve its
missing POWs and why did the White House hide the truth?
Storm is a leading-edge London model
agency. On the eve of New York Fashion Week, teenage hopefuls
are dispatched to Manhattan where in the space of a few days
careers will be made or broken by fashion houses and advertisers.
Supermodel Kate Moss and Storm's restless bookers unzip the strange,
closed world of fashion. A seven-foot male in size-12 stilettos
stands ready to teach the chosen few the secrets of the catwalk
OTRAG: Fire in the Heavens
Once, German rocket engineer
Kurt Debus served Hitler, at the Nazi Peenemunde V1 and V2 test
site. Decades later, he joined OTRAG, a group of German rocket
scientists testing space technology at a secret base in central
Africa. President Mobutu, the corrupt leader of the Congo (Zaire),
sold OTRAG control of an area of Shaba Province the size of France.
Aboard OTRAG's fleet of cargo planes, loaded with rocket parts,
German engineers would head for a dirt airstrip atop a startling
plateau in what was effectively OTRAG's own sovereign territory.
There, protected from the eyes of the world by Mobutu's Special
Forces, the company test-launched rockets which it hoped would
eventually carry spy satellites into space for military despots
and rogue regimes, earning billions for its German investors
Nazi Gold press response
Nazi Gold Swiss complaints
The BBC did not uphold a complaint by the Swiss Ambassador to the United Kingdom that Nazi Gold portrayed Swiss history unfairly. A subsequent appeal to the Governors of the BBC was also rejected. The Swiss courts dismissed a complaint that the film had incited hatred of the Swiss people.
Letter from Jean Ziegler, member of Swiss parliament; member of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission; professor at the University of Geneva
I found your film excellent, as much from the point of view of its form as from that of the knowledge which it imparts. The information which you assembled is impressive. To my knowledge no-one -- unless they were acting in bad faith -- could reproach you with the slightest factual error.
As an MP and a member of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Swiss Parliament, I have been profoundly surprised by the virulent, negative and often irrational reactions with which your film has been greeted in Government circles.
I can see only one reason for this: the fundamental inability, on the part of many people with positions of authority in my country, to confront the past and abandon the comfortable myths which have until now served as a structure for our shared consciousness.
To raise one point in particular, what you say on the subject of neutrality is of course correct. Neutrality during World War II was a lie: when the civilised world is involved in a struggle against murderers, one cannot remain neutral.
From August 1940, Swiss industry, banking, trade and so on were placed almost entirely at the disposal of the Reich. Numerous historians -- including for example Hans Ulrich Jost -- confirm this point of view.
The rejection at the border, especially from 19 August 1942, and often straight into the hands of their SS tormentors, of about 100,000 Jewish men, women and children, constitutes a crime against humanity. No time limit applies to such a crime.
In the light of the documents and figures available today, there is no doubt that the Swiss financial markets greatly benefited from the laundering of stolen Nazi gold -- including gold that came from the death camps.
On the question of trains passing through the Gotthard towards Germany, in particular from 1943: I have heard it said by old friends, like me members of the Swiss Socialist Party and who at the time were working for the Federal Railways, that these sealed trains had been filled with people. Certainly deported workers, perhaps Jewish people. In any case railway workers were under orders not to let anyone out of these trains while they transited through Swiss territory.
Our country is a very old, living democracy. Today it finds itself plunged into a deep identity crisis. I love this country. I remain convinced that it will succeed in reclaiming and shedding light on its past, and in building a future together with the other democratic countries of Europe.
Your film represents a valuable contribution to the debate currently under way in Switzerland. May I thank you for this.
With very best regards, Jean Ziegler.
A witness in NAZI GOLD, supported by five others found by BBC researchers, claimed the Nazis transported prisoners by train through Switzerland. After the film was shown in America, a PBS viewer wrote
My grandfather died over ten years ago but did tell me of his life in Germany during Nazi rule ... when he died he took with him many secrets, but he did tell me of one incident. He was an engineer, driving the big steam trains that did the transporting of materials to the frontline troops. During the winter of 1943/44, after he had numerous trains blown out from below him on the Russian Front, he was transferred to duty transport into Italy. He told me of one incident where he was taking a human trainload back to Germany through Switzerland. In Switzerland he attempted to abandon the wagons at the station. He was "detained" by the Swiss, put back on his train, and their engineer drove the train to the border with Germany. They released him at the border to drive the train on. He did this (with) three children and a wife at home. He requested and was re-assigned to the Russian Front. He told me that if the "moral' Swiss would do this knowing the outcome, then no-one can condemn the Germans for having voted Hitler into power not knowing what the outcome would be. Starving, beaten people who seek help from a silver tongued devil are innocent when compared to moral zealots who protect themselves for love of money.
The Nightrider press response
"Dazzling" Did You See, London
"Visceral emotional wallop" New York Newsday
"Stylishly directed by talented film-maker Christopher Olgiati" Los Angeles Times
"Superb ... atrocities quite literally devastating ... enough to bring tears to the eyes ... tugs at both emotions and intellect long after the film's end" City Limits, London
"Saga of raw racial hatred, simmering in the Mississippi swamplands" Daily Mail, London
Truth & Lies: Child of the Death Camps press response