Docu filmmaker screens 'Central Park Five' out of competition

Prolific documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is not in Cannes to wheel and deal — even though his latest feature “The Central Park Five” is screening out of competition.

“We’re just here to enjoy introducing the film,” he told Variety. “We’ve got a lot of interest in it and I think PBS is incredibly excited about it, but there’s no rush. Cannes is the Grand Canyon of cinema in that there are so many layers here.”

Burns arrived in Cannes on Wednesday with his fellow producers — daughter Sarah Burns and son-in-law David McMahon — with the premiere set for Thursday evening. The trio has been working on the film since 2003, when Sarah Burns began work on book of the same name about the famed Central Park Jogger case.

“Central Park” explores the impact of the five minor African-American teens — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam — who made verbal admissions under pressure, were vilified for years and subsequently served 7-13 years in prison. In 2002, another man’s confession and DNA evidence led the district attorney’s office to recommend vacating the convictions.

Richardson, Santana and McCray sued the city of New York in 2003 for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress. The city has refused to settle the case — and that’s a key reason why Burns wants to get “Central Park Five” a theatrical release, even though it would only be the second time after 1985’s “Huey Long” that a Burns film has gone into theaters.

“We’re filmmakers first and foremost and we want to make a difference,” he noted. “So having a theatrical release will, I think, amplify the pressure on the city to settle so they can put their lives back together.”

He credits Tom Luddy of the Telluride Film Festival for urging him to seek out a showing at Cannes via festival director Tierry Fremaux.

The doc contains extensive interviews with the quintet along with journalists, social commentators and former New York City mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins. “Even though Sarah had interviewed them for the book, it was a real leap of faith for them to agree to go on camera,” Burns added, noting that McCray decided against being photographed.

Burns admits that the issue of America’s racism permeates the film, much as it has in his other docs such as “The Civil War.” He believes that racism remains strong in the United States.

“I reject categorically that we are living in a post-racial society,” Burns said.

The filmmaker is busy on a Dust Bowl series for PBS, a series about Franklin, Eleanor and Theodore Roosevelt and histories of country music and the Vietnam War. He is repped by WME.

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