September 23, 2021

Hollywood Makes Its Case for ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood is pushing back, at least a little, against the Washington power players and others who have put the squeeze on “Zero Dark Thirty.”

In the last week, Mark Boal, who is a producer of the film and wrote the screenplay, hired Jeffrey H. Smith, a prominent lawyer who specializes in domestic security and First Amendment issues, Mr. Smith confirmed on Friday. His mission is to represent Mr. Boal with regard to any approach from Congress or the executive branch in connection with their inquiries into the film’s depiction of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, Christopher J. Dodd, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, raised a warning on Friday for those who are calling for investigations into the film.

“There could, in my view, be a chilling effect if, in the end of all this, you have a screenwriter or a director called before an investigating committee,” Mr. Dodd said. He stressed that he was speaking for himself rather than for the association’s member studios, including Sony Pictures, which released “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Mr. Dodd, who served five terms in the Senate before retiring in 2010, said he could not recall another movie being so heavily scrutinized by the government. He expressed concern that the military or other government agencies that have routinely helped filmmakers might withhold future cooperation rather than risk similar pressure.

“ ‘JFK’ and ‘All the President’s Men’ were controversial,” Mr. Dodd said, noting that neither of those films seemed to draw the same level of attention from lawmakers.

Three senators — Dianne Feinstein of California, Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona — have publicly criticized “Zero Dark Thirty” because they believe it sent a message that torture was an effective tool in the hunt for Bin Laden. In a Dec. 19 letter to Michael Lynton, the co-chairman of Sony Pictures, they asked the studio to act to change that impression, without specifying what they expected it to do. (The film had a limited theatrical run late last month, and was released more broadly on Jan. 11.)

In two letters sent in December to Michael Morell, the acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the senators, citing their affiliation with the Select Committee on Intelligence, asked that the agency provide information and documents about its contact with the filmmakers.

On Friday, Mr. Dodd said he initially screened “Zero Dark Thirty” at the Motion Picture Association’s Washington headquarters for Ms. Feinstein, whom he described as a close friend. “She had problems with it,” he said.

Ms. Feinstein’s objections have centered on what she has said is a portrayal of the efficacy of torture that is at odds with accounts that have been provided to Congress in the past by intelligence operatives.

In the meantime, Mr. Smith, a former general counsel of the C.I.A. who has represented Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara and other former government officials in security-related matters, confirmed in an e-mail that he represents Mr. Boal.

The government inquiries “raise serious questions about the nature of the cooperation between the government and those who seek to make films about sensitive and important issues,” Mr. Smith said in a brief statement.

To date, he said, Mr. Boal has not been contacted in connection with the inquiries.

Last week Kathryn Bigelow, the film’s director, made her strongest public statement to date about the torture controversy.

“Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement,” she said in a statement published in The Los Angeles Times. “If it was, no artists would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time.”

Torture, she added, “is a part of the story we could not ignore.”

The criticism of “Zero Dark Thirty” has extended beyond Washington and included members of the film industry. Last weekend, as Hollywood gathered for the Golden Globe Awards, the actors David Clennon, Edward Asner and Martin Sheen — all members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — were organizing a public condemnation of the film for what they have called its “tolerance” of torture.

That push prompted a public response by Amy Pascal, the co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures, who called it “reprehensible.” Jessica Chastain, the film’s star, was honored as the year’s best dramatic actress at the Golden Globes, and the movie has received five Oscar nominations from the academy, including one for best picture. Ms. Bigelow was not nominated for a directing Oscar, leading to speculation that the torture controversy had worked against her selection.

After the Golden Globes, Mr. Boal flew to Europe to promote “Zero Dark Thirty” as it opened in Britain and France.

In a series of e-mails, Mr. Boal said he found the reception to the movie there to be “much smoother” than in the United States.

European interviewers appeared to regard the torture controversy more as a reckoning among Americans than as something that directly involved them, he said.

And in France, he said, a number of interviewers compared the film’s airing of the torture issue “favorably to France’s allergy to and even censorship of” movies about its role in Algeria’s war for independence.

“We might bicker,” Mr. Boal said, “but at least we face the past in my country. Sorta.”

Article source:

Scuffle Over On-Demand Movies Portends Battles to Come

The blow-up is between studios and theater owners over a plan to slip some movies into homes through on-demand video shortly after they arrive in theaters. For Mr. Dodd, the new chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, it is the first industry crisis since he started in late March.

“I’m the new kid on the block,” Mr. Dodd said in an interview by phone on Friday, acknowledging that both his relative inexperience and the need to stay out of business decisions made by individual studios had kept him largely out of the battle. “Each company has to make up its own mind.”

Studios, exhibitors and filmmakers are arguing about the future of the business, and whether people in coming years will be more likely to watch movies in theaters or in increasingly sophisticated home setups mimicking the quality, immediacy and, perhaps, cost, of today’s theatrical experience.

Last week, four studios — Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Warner Brothers — took the first step in their arrangement with DirecTV to release films two months after their theatrical release.

The first premium on-demand offering came on Thursday, as DirecTV offered Sony’s “Just Go With It,” with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, for $30. Two dozen filmmakers, including James Cameron and Peter Jackson, fired back with an open letter criticizing the experiment as a threat to theaters.

The fight separated allies who had recently joined to spend billions of dollars to upgrade theaters for digital and 3-D projection, and had used their combined political might to thwart proposed trading in a financial exchange based on box office revenue.

The rift underscores how little Mr. Dodd or anyone else can do to buffer the jolts in a film business where the greatest challenges are not the labor disputes or public policy battles that were wrangled by past Hollywood statesmen like the MCA chairman Lew R. Wasserman or the long-serving M.P.A.A. chief Jack Valenti.

Rather, the greatest challenges are philosophical and include business choices largely outside the reach of a trade association, which is limited by antitrust law from interfering in decisions that are really about business rather than public policy — hence Mr. Dodd’s unaccustomed restraint. In fact, the difficulties facing the industry are likely to become tougher as film companies feel their way toward a digital future that is only beginning to unfold.

“What’s really going on is that the architecture of the industry is changing,” said Jeff Berg, chairman of the International Creative Management agency.

Speaking by telephone last week, Mr. Berg predicted increasingly rapid waves of change that would overtake the movie business, as companies struggle to replace disappearing DVD revenue with income from both digitally enhanced theaters and new approaches, like so-called digital lockers, that will allow viewers to store films they have paid for in a pirate-proof virtual space that permits repeat viewing.

“There’s a big narrative that’s going to be very disruptive,” Mr. Berg said.

The fierce response by executives from big movie chains like Cinemark, AMC and Regal to the studios’ relatively cautious step with on-demand is clearly more about setting a line for future battles than it is about losing money from an Adam Sandler comedy that left most theaters weeks ago.

“I have not felt this level of concern about a practice of the studios among our members,” said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, which helped organize the filmmakers’ protest letter (in keeping with that association’s view that it can to some extent oppose the plan without violating the antitrust laws that have held back the M.P.A.A.).

Mr. Fithian, also speaking last week, said theater owners had been particularly shocked about the way they learned of the on-demand program: while they were gathered last month at the CinemaCon movie convention in Las Vegas, shortly after Mr. Dodd delivered an address voicing enthusiasm for the moviegoing experience. The report appeared on the Web site of the trade publication Variety.

Article source: