This review was updated on Nov. 16, 2005.
A sturdy, concise, no-nonsense documentary that should hit screens as soon as possible, “Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal” has limited theatrical options, but would probably win Peabodys if shown on “Frontline,” HBO or any of the several other outlets with social agendas and nerve enough to air the appalling story related in this unconventional movie.
During Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial tenure in Arkansas, the state prison system — which was self-supporting, largely through inmate farm labor — collected and sold inmate blood, often taken from the riskiest element of the prison population.
Focusing on the state’s notorious Cummins work farm, documaker Kelly Duda establishes through interviews with current and former inmates, prison phlebotomists and others, that inmates commonly known to engage in IV drug abuse and homosexual activity were allowed to bleed for $2 a pop and — although officials deny it — their blood was then processed and sold. Illegal to sell in the United States, the blood was distributed in Canada and used, among other things, to process Factor 8, a clotting mediation sold to hemophiliacs. They, in turn, came down with HIV infections and hepatitis C. (Recent reports from the U.K. have stated that Clinton may be asked to testify in a case brought by Scottish victims of tainted blood.)
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Duda gives both sides ample opportunity to tell their version of events, but is generally greeted by defiant or defensive prison officials and stonewalling politicos and, much to his (and our) amazement, discovers that Clinton’s gubernatorial papers are simply unavailable for examination, in or out of Arkansas. As he proceeds with his investigation — one of the successes of the film is that we and he seem to discover things together — he finds all the same names popping up that were connected to either the Whitewater investigation or the Monica Lewinski case: Leonard Dunn, who led Health Management Associates, which ran the blood program for the Arkansas Dept. of Corrections; Jim McDougal, from whom Dunn later bought the Whitewater-troubled Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, even Lewinski confidante Linda Tripp and the late White House counsel Vince Foster. What Duda strongly implies is that Clinton was impeached for the wrong crime.
In fact, one of the things that hits the viewer in “Factor 8” is that Ken Starr spent more than $40 million trying to pin something on then-President Clinton, and missed what Kelly Duda found via sheer leg work.
“Factor 8” is hard-headed journalism practiced by a filmmaker who sometimes seems like a pit bull with a bureaucratic bone. He follows subjects fearlessly and ventures into hostile environs but comes away, most of the time, with the information he wants to get.
Some of his most valuable data come from Cummins prisoner Rolf Kaestel, a prison-trained paralegal and publisher of an inmate newsletter, who is mysteriously whisked off to a Utah maximum security prison midway through the movie. One suspects, however, that we haven’t heard the last of Kaestel. Or Duda. Or the Factor 8 case.