Hearst Castle, the inspiration for Xanadu in “Citizen Kane,” saw its movie role revisited Friday as the landmark hosted the West Coast premiere of Leslie Iwerks’ documentary “Citizen Hearst.”
About 100 people — including several of the top brass at Hearst Corp. — attended a rare screening at the Hearst’s private theater at the complex near San Simeon. The event included a presentation to Iwerks of the San Luis Obispo Film Festival’s Spotlight award.
Iwerks’ doc, which debuted in October at the Hamptons Film Festival, explores the 125-year history of the Hearst empire from the days of William Randolph Hearst’s sensationalistic newspapering, the construction of the massive Hearst Castle and the growth of global media brands — including interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Dan Rather, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. “Citizen Hearst,” with William Macy providing narration, opens in limited release on Friday.
“I’m sort of geeking out being here in Hearst’s theater,” Iwerks told the audience, noting that the Hearst Corp. — which had commissioned the movie — provided her with extensive access to the sprawling facility and members of the Hearst family.
Iwerks also pointed out that despite Hearst’s lavish lifestyle, maintained even during the Great Depression, Hearst remained committed to the notion of sticking up for the common folk. “He was a true champion of the people,” she added.
The Hearst family became a part of the festival last year when William Randolph Hearst’s grandson Steven Hearst agreed to a first-ever screening of “Citizen Kane” at the Hearst Castle visitors center — even though his grandfather had tried unsuccessfully to suppress the film.
Steven Hearst, a Hearst Corp. VP and manager of its Western properties, indicated then and again on Friday night that enough time has passed for the family to acknowledge the artistic achievement of Orson Wells’ drama, while attempting to set the record straight about Hearst.
“It was not an accurate depiction of my grandfather, but it is a great film,” he noted.
Hearst Corp. chairman Will Hearst, also a grandson of “WR,” said that the sceening’s location was particularly appropriate. “This is kind of ground zero for everyone involved with Hearst,” he added.
Iwerks began shooting “Citizen Hearst” at the castle during the same weekend that “Citizen Kane” screened there last year.
Hollywood star power at the event, a benefit for the Friends of Hearst Castle, was provided by Daryl Hannah. Iwerks noted that the thesp had narrated her Keystone XL pipeline documentary “Pipe Dreams,” which was shown as the fest along with five other Iwerks docs: “The Ride,” “Industrial Light & Magic — Creating the Impossible,” “The Pixar Story,” Recycled Life” and the story of her grandfather, who created Mickey Mouse — “The Hand Behind the Mouse: the Ub Iwerks Story.”
Iwerks also told Variety that she’s been working on a Disney-commissioned documentary about its Imagineering division, which creates its theme-park attractions. She said she’s been pleased at the level of access, noting, “They gave me the keys to the kingdom.”
The event also included 10 minutes of restored home movies shot at the castle during the 1920s showing a playful Hearst with notables such as Irving Thalberg, Louella Parsons and John Gilbert.