Court rejects Wildmon’s ‘Damned’ appeal

The Rev. Donald Wildmon’s suit against the documentary “Damned in the USA” is apparently over.

Three judges sitting on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans yesterday struck down Wildmon’s appeal of an earlier ruling that had allowed the film to be distributed in the United States.

Unless Wildmon and the American Family Association choose to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the matter is over.

“I think this is the end of it,” noted Martin Garbus, of the New York law firm Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein & Selz, the attorney who represented the filmmakers and Channel 4 in Britain.

While Wildmon’s attorney, Benjamin Bull, could not be reached for comment, “Damned” filmmaker Jonathan Stack said yesterday’s victory has left him feeling hopeful.

“We’ve won the right to start hoping for some positive changes. It’s a good time right now,” he said.

Wildmon and the AFA originally filed suit in October 1991 in an attempt to block the film from being shown in America. The 68-minute docu features interviews with Wildmon, mixed in with footage of controversial works of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, among others.

It was originally filmed for Channel 4 in London, airing there and in other cities in Europe.

Wildmon reportedly never viewed the film until Stack and filmmaker Paul Yule were making plans to bring it to the States. He subsequently filed a $ 2 million breach of contract suit, charging that the release he had signed to do the interview stipulated that the filmmakers had to get his permission each time the film was shown.

His attorney later said that the leader of the conservative Christian group was offended to find himself in a film that also showed artwork such as a depiction of Christ submerged in urine, as well as graphic images from Mapplethorpe’s work.

Last September a Mississippi federal judge threw Wildmon’s case out of court. Yet the same judge, one week later, decided to grant an injunction in response to Wildmon’s appeal, which in essence banned the film from being shown until the appeal was decided.

That injunction was then overturned and yesterday the appeal was denied.

Meanwhile all of this publicity has generated enough interest in the teledoc to warrant limited theatrical screenings around the country. One of the first of those screenings was last night at the New Wilshire in Los Angeles.

“Unfortunately, we’ve found ourselves in the difficult circumstance of having to self distribute the film,” noted Stack. “No distributor was willing to take this film on.”

Stack said he was hopeful that the docu would eventually be shown on cable and on the university circuit.

“What everyone has learned with this is that Wildmon costs you money, and no one wants to lose that,” Stack said.

As for their future plans, the filmmakers are at work on a new docu, “Rubber Talk.” It’s about sexuality in America in the age of AIDS.

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