[Mb-civic] NYTimes.com Article: Citing Politics, Studio Cancels Documentary

ialterman at nyc.rr.com ialterman at nyc.rr.com
Thu Sep 2 18:51:29 PDT 2004

The article below from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by ialterman at nyc.rr.com.

So...is this "serious," or simply an attempt to stir up controversy a la "Farenheit 9/11" in order to increase interest?


ialterman at nyc.rr.com

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Citing Politics, Studio Cancels Documentary

September 2, 2004


LOS ANGELES, Sept. 1 - Warner Brothers has decided not to
distribute the director David O. Russell's new antiwar
documentary when it re-releases his 1999 Gulf War movie,
"Three Kings," this fall, judging it "totally
inappropriate" to do so in a political season, a studio
spokeswoman said. 

The heads of Warner Brothers made the decision this week
after seeing the completed documentary, which features
interviews with Iraqi refugees and veterans of the current
war in Iraq. 

"This came out to be a documentary that condemns,
basically, war," said the spokeswoman, Barbara Brogliatti.
"This is supposed to be a special edition of 'Three Kings,'
not a polemic about war." 

The fate of the completed documentary, which was supposed
to be an add-on to the DVD and to be screened with it in
theaters - is still uncertain, but the studio, which
provided its $180,000 budget, said it was inclined to let
Mr. Russell have it back. Mr. Russell, anticipating that
outcome, said he would probably try to distribute it

"It was definitely a surprise and a disappointment," he
said in an interview Tuesday. "But they are being very
gracious and letting me take it back." 

The studio's decision reflects a heightened sensitivity by
media companies over movies that may be construed as
partisan. Sony recently backed out of a deal to distribute
the DVD of "The Control Room," a documentary about the Arab
news channel Al Jazeera. The Canadian independent company
Lions Gate will distribute it instead. Earlier this year
the Walt Disney Company became part of a cultural firestorm
when it declined to distribute Michael Moore's anti-Bush
documentary, "Fahrenheit: 9/11," saying it was too
political. The documentary became a hit, and the episode
deepened a split between Disney and executives of its
Miramax unit who backed the film. 

With the talk of quickly giving Mr. Russell back his film,
Warner Brothers appeared eager to avoid creating a similar
controversy. But unlike Mr. Moore's film, the Russell
documentary does not endorse or even mention either
presidential candidate. 

Mr. Russell said he did not quite understand the political
objection. "The point is, yes, Saddam was horrible," said
the director, whose other films include "Flirting with
Disaster" and the forthcoming "I {sheart} Huckabees." "A
lot of people, my Iraqi friends, say they supported the
war,'' he added, referring to the documentary. "Then you
have a human rights activist saying it's better that Saddam
is gone, but I'm not sure the world is better off with this

But Warner executives said the documentary was not what Mr.
Russell had promised as additional material for the movie's
re-release. They expected follow-up stories to the real
lives of Iraqi extras and advisers who worked on the film,
like one political refugee who moved back to Iraq and was
doing underground political work. 

"That's not what this turned out to be," Ms. Brogliatti
said. In an interview with The New York Times last month,
Mr. Russell said he made the documentary because "I thought
I could perhaps make a difference before the election, let
people see the situation, how Iraqis wanted to get rid of
Saddam, but also show what war does to people." 

That prompted Warner Brothers to ask its lawyers if the
documentary might run afoul of Federal Election Commission
regulations, or constitute a so-called soft money political
contribution. Though the legal opinion was unclear, the
studio decided not to release a film that might be
construed as partisan ahead of the election. The president
of Warner Brothers, Alan Horn, is an active Democrat and
wanted to avoid the perception that he was using the studio
to support his own political convictions, studio executives
said. Ms. Brogliatti said Mr. Russell would try to come up
with other additional material more closely related to the
movie. If he can, she said, the studio will stand by its
plan to re-release "Three Kings" as a DVD and in about a
dozen theaters, probably next month. 

Mr. Russell said he would still try to distribute the
documentary before the election, possibly through the
political grass-roots organization Moveon.org, which has
promoted other political documentaries this year, including
"Outfoxed," a critique of Fox News. 

"Three Kings" is a dark comedy starring George Clooney
about four soldiers who set out to find Saddam Hussein's
hidden cache of gold bullion in the aftermath of the 1991
Gulf War. Along the way they meet Shiite insurgents and
refugees who are battling Mr. Hussein's army after having
been urged to revolt by President George H. W. Bush. The
soldiers end up abandoning the gold and helping the
refugees escape. 



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