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Indie pic maker loses freedom at Liberty

After dodging itchy trigger fingers in Tiananmen Square, the Kremlin and El Salvador without a single arrest or bullet wound to show for it, indie moviemaker Reed Paget was detained Friday and had his reel confiscated at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor for shooting without a permit.

The 27-year-old Seattle-based Paget has traversed three continents for 18 months to complete “A Beer Drinker’s Guide to Global Politics,” a film that aims to understand the individual’s role in the new world order that developed after the end of the Cold War.

The pic has been described as the first Lollapalooza-type movie from the grunge generation, and distribbers like October Films and pay-cabler Showtime have already cast more than a passing glance at the completed material.

When Paget felt three park rangers were deliberately delaying the application process, he went ahead and shot without their permission. According to both the Park Dept. and Paget’s lawyer, this got him detained and frisked, and his 16mm reel and magazine were impounded indefinitely.

Officials also explained to Paget that because he was not technically under arrest, he was not allowed to call his lawyer from the ranger office, his lawyer said. Paget is waiting for a court date. If convicted of the misdemeanor, he faces a $ 500 fine and/or six months in jail.

“There’s no question in my mind that what they did was illegal and unconstitutional,” said Paget’s lawyer, Steven Schechter. “When he asked to call his lawyer, the rangers said, ‘What are you gonna do, call Seattle?’ … They asked him specific questions regarding the content of the film and asked him what he was planning to ask people — that’s the most egregious breach of the First Amendment.”

Because the detention report hasn’t been filed yet, Parks Dept. reps could not comment on the verbal exchange or specific details surrounding the detention.

“I fail to understand how the Parks Dept. can take it upon themselves to censor a young man who goes to the Statue of Liberty to talk to people about how we can make a better America and a better world,” said exec producer Jeff Dowd, whose most recent pix are “Zebrahead” and the animated “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.”

“Ironically, Paget’s and my work give out the kind of positive message (President) Clinton lectured Hollywood about Saturday night at CAA — a day after Paget was busted for trying to do just that,” continued Dowd. “The rangers clearly delayed the process based on the film’s content.”

Michael Deutsch, legal director at the public-interest, Gotham-based Center for Constitutional Rights, agreed.

“We’re involved in trying to get his film back and finding someone to put pressure on the government to release it,” Deutsch said. “But we’re in this neverland right now trying to find out who (could turn it over). … There’s no reason they should hold on to that film.” Parks Dept. assistant superintendent Larry Steeler didn’t see it that way. “The young man broke the code of federal regulations by continuing to film without a permit,” Steeler explained. “It’s a procedural thing.” Steeler dismissed Paget’s allegations that the filmer’s First Amendment rights were suppressed.

Another parks rep elaborated that rangers always screen film applicants to protect tourists from being bothered by commercial surveys or lewd material, but admitted Paget had clearly “fallen between the cracks.”

“This is neither black nor white, frankly,” the rep said. “What I’m saying is that somewhere between one and three is two.”

Asked why the film was being held, he said, “I assume it’s for evidence — I mean, why else would we hold it?”

Paget, whose camera took him to Scud missile-riddled Israel during the Gulf War, admits he went ahead without a permit but remains defiant.

“After five minutes of arguing with the rangers, I panned up at the statue and asked, ‘Isn’t that what this country is about?’ and then they told me to turn over the film.”

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