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Sundance Selects nabs Burns’ ‘Central Park’

Documaker's latest premiered at Cannes

Sundance Selects has bought U.S. theatrical rights to documentary “The Central Park Five,” three months after it premiered as an official selection at Cannes.

Ken Burns co-directed, wrote and produced the project with his daughter, Sarah Burns (author of the book “The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding”) and her husband, David McMahon.

The documentary is Ken Burns’ first theatrical release since “Huey Long” in 1985.

The film was recently announced as part of the Toronto International Film Festival’s documentary lineup and as the Closing Night film of the third annual DOC NYC festival in November.

“Central Park” explores the impact of the five minor African-American and Latino 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.

Burns told Variety in Cannes that he wanted to get “Central Park Five” a theatrical release to bring pressure on the city to settle the suit.

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

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.

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.

Deal for “Five” was negotiated between Jeff Deutchman for Sundance Selects/IFC Films with McMahon on behalf of the filmmakers.

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