×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Festival blood feud

Docu on tainted plasma pulled at Slamdance

Bad blood over a documentary about tainted plasma led Slamdance to stanch last Sunday’s premiere of “Factor Eight: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal.”

The fest pulled the pic after a federal judge leveled an injunction against its director, Kelly Duda, in a dispute over ownership of the footage used in the film.

The legal tourniquet was applied by Michael Galster, who helped unearth a scandal in which hemophiliacs in Canada got sick from using plasma harvested from Arkansas prison inmates infected with HIV or hepatitis C.

Galster said he spent years compiling footage for his own documentary and then paid Duda to shoot it. When the film was nearly complete, Galster said, Duda walked off with the footage, including hours of interviews with prisoners who participated in the plasma program, many of whom have since died.

Duda denied Galster’s claims and said it was wrong to silence a worthy film. “I did all the research, I produced the film, directed it and did the interviews,” he said.

Premiere quashed

Galster persuaded the judge to quash the premiere and order Duda to fork over all footage to the court until trial. Meanwhile, Galster has made a separate deal with a trio of Hollywood producers for an “Erin Brockovich”-style feature about the plasma scandal.

Though the judge noted that Duda added some footage to Galster’s film, he wrote that the content “is substantially similar to the plaintiff’s version of the film at the time the defendant stopped working for the plaintiff and appropriated the plaintiff’s property.”

Duda replied: “Galster claims I was paid as a worker for hire, but you ask him for a copy of the contract, and he says it got burned in a fire. He was a contributor along with others who wanted to see the issue told, and now he wants to hijack the whole thing. It is odd to have Daily Variety writing about a film I cannot show. I was hoping for a review, and for the voices of the victims to be heard.”

The plasma scandal has largely been ignored by U.S. media, and both Galster and Duda said it’s ironic that the issue is finally getting attention because of their dispute. Galster worked in Arkansas prisons in the late 1970s as an independent contractor who made prosthetic limbs. He regularly saw sick inmates donating plasma, often several times per week.

Covert investigation

Galster said he figured a filtering system was used, but years later, when he read an article about Canadian hemophiliacs catching AIDS and hepatitis C linked to Arkansas blood, he remembered that prison plasma. He covertly did his own investigation, hoping to stop blood brokers who were making millions of dollars shipping tainted plasma around the world and prison officials who turned a blind eye to the risks.

Galster blew the whistle, and the Canadian government responded. A billion-dollar settlement was made to victims and their families, and criminal prosecutions have resulted.

Producers Elizabeth Fowler, Pat Dollard and Ryan Kavanaugh think the story has high movie appeal. They’ve bought Galster’s life rights as well as “Blood Trail,” a novelized account of the scandal Galster wrote years ago under a pseudonym.

Dollard, who manages Steven Soderbergh, said Galster’s story of personal risk and sacrifice makes him a strong protagonist.

String of disasters

While Galster was putting heat on the blood brokers, he got death threats. His underinsured prosthetics factory mysteriously burned to the ground. His wife left, and his family nearly fell apart. And then, Galster said, Duda left with the documentary footage.

Galster said he filed suit last December after he heard Duda’s voice on his car radio, telling an NPR interviewer about the film and Slamdance premiere plans.

“The hardest part of this case is that the families of the victims have condemned me for not allowing that film to be shown,” Galster said. “All I can say is: Let justice be done and the issue will be shown in a way that is more grand and honest than they dreamed.”

More Film

  • RYAN GOSLING as Neil Armstrong in

    Big Breakthroughs Seen in Below-the-Line Categories

    Is 2018 an anomaly, or is it a harbinger of things to come? The awards derbies of recent years have seen a predominance of indie films at the expense of big studio features — resulting in a slate of Oscar contenders devoid not only of genuine blockbusters but also of more modest mid-budget crowd-pleasers. This [...]

  • Fox Germany Veteran Vincent De La

    Fox Germany Veteran Vincent De La Tour Heading to Paramount Pictures

    20th Century Fox veteran Vincent de la Tour is joining Paramount Pictures in a role covering Austria, Germany and Switzerland. He will be executive vice president for theatrical and home media for those territories, overseeing the local teams and reporting to Cameron Saunders, Paramount’s EVP of international theatrical distribution, and Bob Buchi, president of worldwide [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    It's Time to Enjoy the Movies and Ignore the Oscar Noise

    For most of its 91 years, Oscar has been surrounded by hoopla. Now it’s surrounded by noise, which isn’t the same thing. For decades, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ attitude toward the media was: “Don’t talk about the organization; instead, talk about the creative members and their movies.” But in the internet [...]

  • Crazy Rich Asians

    Diverse Lineup of Actors Jostle for Awards Attention

    It’s been less than four years since #OscarsSoWhite became a hot topic at the Academy Awards after 2015 films like “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” failed to land major nominations for people of color. (It actually began the year before but picked up steam when, for the second year in a row, no people of [...]

  • 'Malila: The Farewell Flower' Review: Thailand's

    Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower'

    At first, you can just about smell the jasmine wafting delicately off the screen in “Malila: The Farewell Flower,” a restrained, quietly sensuous study of gay desire, grief and spirituality from Thai writer-director Anucha Boonyawatana. A little more accessible than her 2015 debut feature “The Blue Hour,” but building on its enigmatic, opalescent queerness, Boonyawatana’s [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    Hollywood Studios Got Their Groove Back

    This awards season, the Hollywood studios’ Golden Boy, Oscar, stars in The Return of the Prodigal Son. This year’s lineup of studio contenders has opened screen doors to the top award after Oscar’s long affair with those wild young things called “the indies.” As the blockbusters became the more and more favored means of recoupment [...]

  • Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in

    Film Review: 'Vice'

    From Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump, the leaders of right-wing Republican politics have tended to be fire-breathers (or, in the case of Reagan, a saber rattler who could make snake oil taste like honey). But Dick Cheney broke that mold. Speaking in soft terse corporate tones, with the precision squint of someone [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content