Monday, October 13, 2008

Out of the Theater And Into Your Living Room

The last round of local theatrical showings of Citizen McCaw wrapped up this weekend. Probably the only person in town for whom that would be welcome news is Wendy McCaw herself.

But the documentary on the struggle over ethics between the billionaire owner of a newspaper and her newsroom staff, is not going away. In fact, it's fair to say that it is now easier than ever to see Citizen McCaw when you want to and where you want to.

The documentary is now available on DVD with the first copies being sold at the past weekend's screenings. DVD copies can also be ordered online and will also be soon available in some retail outlets around town.

The filmmakers are donating five copies of the DVD to the Santa Barbara Public Library.

KRCB, the PBS station that serves Sonoma and Marin counties in the Bay Area, will air Citizen McCaw on Sunday, November 2 at 8 pm.

Although you certainly won't find it in the News-Press TV listings, Channel 21 has been given the rights in perpetuity to air the documentary and probably will start doing so sometime in the not too distant future.

The version of the film that aired this weekend, and is available on DVD, is slightly changed from the version that premiered at the Arlington Theater this past March and was also shown in April.

I attended Friday night's screening at the Fiesta Five where the theater was about three-quarters full. When I heard that the movie was seven minutes shorter than the original version I thought to myself, "uh, oh, there goes my part."

But I'm still in it. Among the things I noticed that had been taken out were the reenactment of the party where glasses can be heard "clinking" as newsroom employees toasted Wendy McCaw's purchase of the paper from the New York Times Company.

Also, the Don Henley song, "Heartache Tonight" no longer opens the film. Henley had granted the producers a free license to use the song for the first showings of the film, however to continue using the song for these latest showings and to include it on the DVD would have required the payment of performance royalties.

New to the film is footage that tries to put the struggle over journalism ethics at the News-Press into the larger national perspective.

There is a segment in the film that is devoted to what has taken place recently with Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the Wall Street Journal, and Sam Zell's acquisition of Tribune Corporation.

There is a fleeting reference to Judge Steven Wilson's refusal to order the News-Press to reinstate eight wrongfully fired reporters. And the dismissal of Wendy's libel suit against Susan Paterno for her article "Santa Barbara Smackdown" came too late to be included in the reedited documentary.

And no, none of the changes appeared to be made in response to the objections McCaw's attorney Barry Cappello raised in his nasty cease and desist letters to the producers.

I would say that the reaction of the audience at the Friday night showing that I attended was every bit as enthusiastic as that of the audience that attended the Arlington premiere.

The sequences in the documentary that appeared to elicit the most audible reaction from those watching was the story of how the News-Press grabbed the start-up Daily Sound's Internet domain name, and architect Brian Cearnal's account of how Wendy forced him to spend nearly $1,000,000 in attorney's fees in order to attempt to collect a debt of a couple of hundred thousand dollars he claimed he was owed.

Just about everyone who attended the Friday night showing stuck around for the informal question and answer session with the producers of the film. Many expressed their appreciation for the job the filmmakers had done in taking on the project.

The producers are still about $20,000 short of breaking even on their $185,000 investment in making the film, according to the film's director Sam Tyler.

Tyler added that the screenings this past weekend brought in over $10,000 including $5,000 in the form of a cashier's check from an anonymous donor.

Tyler also said that several of Wendy's friends who were afraid to be seen at the screenings have been begging him for copies of the film.

Back in the 1930's, the super rich had to go to Europe to see the 30 seconds of Hedy Lamarr in Ecstasy that was banned from theaters in the U.S. Now for a certain small circle of people in Montecito, 78 minutes of video that Wendy McCaw doesn't want them to see, is only a mouse click away.