Artist, filmmaker in legal dispute over Jayanti pic

As a proponent of free expression, it’s a bit ironic that artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel finds himself in a dispute over whether a documentary about his creative process should be screened for the public.

The doc, financed by the BBC for exclusive broadcast on the channel in the U.K., was directed by Vikram Jayanti, whose credits include co-producing the Muhammad Ali doc “When We Were Kings” and helming “James Ellroy’s ‘Feast of Death.'”

Schnabel has seen the film and feels it could be much better. But unless he has a chance to give his input, as he claims he was promised, Schnabel wants to block the doc.

Titled “Julian Schnabel Looks at Hell,” the doc follows Schnabel painting various versions of a work called “Last Girl,” based on a painting he found.

Pic includes interviews with Schnabel in his vast loft in the West Village and in Montauk, N.Y., as well as shots of him painting and surfing. There are interviews with the artist’s family and friends, including Interview mag art critic Ingrid Sischy. By all accounts, the doc is flattering, with the exception of certain comments from former Museum of Modern Art curator Kirk Varnedoe.

“The film is actually very generous to Julian,” Jayanti tells Variety.

But Schnabel, who allowed Jayanti full access, claims he had a verbal agreement with the filmmaker to collaborate on the final cut before the doc screens publicly. (Jayanti screened the pic for a group of friends and has sent a copy to at least one journalist.)

Jayanti disputes the original agreement.

“What Julian promised me was that he only wanted to vet the film to ensure that I wasn’t putting anything into it that would cause damage or injury to his family and their privacy,” says the documentarian. “With that came the promise that the directorial and editorial approach were not his concern.”

But it’s clear the director of “Before Night Falls” and “Basquiat” has another vision in mind.

“The finished project ought to be more comprehensive and cohesive than what I understand to be the documentary in its present form,” says Ralph Brescia, Schnabel’s attorney.

Brescia emphasizes that his client isn’t trying to censor the film, but only wanted the BBC to give him “the rights he was promised at the onset.”

BBC rep Claire Mitchell declined to detail Schnabel’s legal dispute with the BBC, saying only, “I think it’s a vivid, insightful film, and I am optimistic that there will be a positive outcome.”

Still, no resolution to the brouhaha seems imminent, and the doc does not yet have a BBC airdate.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more