L.A. viewers get look at ‘Damned’

“Damned in the U.S.A.” finally arrived in Los Angeles.

Produced by the British government’s Channel Four TV network, “Damned” has been at the center of a legal storm created by the American Family Assn.’s Rev. Donald Wildmon for almost a year and has had only a limited number of screenings in this country.

However, after last month’s decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out the court order blocking the film’s distribution, the film was unspooled Thursday night at the DGA Theater at an event sponsored by the Directors Guild of America and the British Academy of Film & Television Arts.

The evening also included a panel discussion–albeit a one-sided one–with the film’s director/producer Paul Yule, co-producer Jonathan Stack and attorney Martin Garbus, who is representing the filmmakers in their ongoing battle with Wildmon.

The evening’s moderator, Martin Lewis, introduced the film, insisting that he invited Wildmon to the evening’s festivities to give his side of the controversy. He admits that he had no luck with the controversial fundamentalist.

“I told his secretary that I wanted to invite him to participate in the evening,” Lewis assured the assembled audience, “but she told me that he had a prior commitment and wasn’t available.”

Lewis added, “I suddenly realized that I had never told her a date. When I told her this, she said, ‘That’s all right, give me a date and I’ll tell you he’s not available.’ ”

Lewis concluded, “If that woman wants one, she could have a terrific career working in Hollywood.”

The film, which examines recent American censorship controversies ranging from Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs and Andres Serrano’s artworks to the recordings of Madonna and 2 Live Crew, was then shown to an enthusiastic audience.

After the screening, the panel discussion got under way with Yule, Stack and Garbus giving their side of the censorship issue and urging the assembled audience to fight Wildmon and his followers.

“The way to resist this is to organize,” Yule said. “This community needs to be active. Wildmon writes letters, you should write letters.”

Garbus, said that although the ruling was a victory for the film, it could be short-lived.

“The case is not over,” he said. “It’s on appeal. If the case is lost on Nov. 5 and if Wildmon ultimately wins, (the film) will not be shown. Although it’s a case for celebration, you should be aware that because of the fund-raising of Wildmon and the ideology of Wildmon, Robertson and Falwell, it could turn into a defeat.”

Garbus also said that thecase could have an effect on other controversial films.

“This case cost Channel Four a great deal of money,” Garbus said. “It will be a long time before another TV station decides to spend that kind of money and they will be afraid to make a film that might offend somebody.”

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