An Oct. 20 showing of Michael Moore’s film “Fahrenheit 9/11” sponsored by UAA’s Friends of Alpha Kappa Delta was cancelled due to the lack of a licensing agreement with the film’s distributor. The decision has left the club in turmoil after its president stepped down citing censorship and a lack of support from the club’s faculty adviser.
Friends of AKD was set to put on the public showing of the successful but controversial documentary in the Social Sciences Building to help inform voters. The documentary accuses President Bush and his administration of indiscretions following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Friends of AKD president Rick Wright resigned Oct. 21, saying the club had been ambushed with a last-minute licensing snag because of the film’s divisive content. Wright said the group advertised for three weeks prior to the show with fliers all over campus.
“This film, in particular, suddenly brought attention,” Wright said. “So even though they say it’s a licensing issue, I fully believe it’s a censorship issue, otherwise it wouldn’t have been brought up the day before the film.”
According to the club’s Web site, its goal is to support Alpha Kappa Delta, the sociology honors society, and to promote interest in the study of sociology, research of social problems and other social and intellectual activities that will lead to improving society and the human condition.
The showing was cancelled after Bruce Shultz, assistant dean of students, saw a flier advertising the event Oct. 19 while leaving the Social Sciences Building. Shultz immediately looked into whether the club had properly attained the public viewing rights to show the film by checking to see if the club had made a large expenditure recently, which they hadn’t.
Wright’s phone was not in service when Shultz attempted to notify him, so he sent to an e-mail the afternoon of Oct. 19 to the club’s officers. It warned of the penalties for violating federal copyright law and how to purchase the viewing rights to the film, which cost $675.
“I never told them they couldn’t show it,” Shultz said. “In my approach, what was important was for them to understand what the federal law is and the ramifications of breaking it.”
According to the Copyright Act of 1976, purchasing or renting the motion picture only gives the right of personal, not public, viewing. A viewing by those beyond a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances would constitute a public performance. The penalty for violating the Copyright Act is up to $20,000 per showing plus the public viewing fee.
Wright disagreed with Shultz’s interpretation of the law.
“I understand the licensing issue,” Wright said. “But I also understand that if you’re not charging to show a film, that it’s not against the law. If I wanted to have 60 of my closest friends to come watch ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ in a room that I provided for them on campus, I could.”
Wright felt that Friends of AKD was singled out due to the storm of debate that has surrounded the film since its release.
“This has never been an issue with other clubs that showed movies on campus or professors that showed movies to their classes,” Wright said.
He cited a Campus Crusade for Christ showing of “The Passion of the Christ” last spring as an example. However, current CCC president Even Evanson said the club never showed “Passion.” Instead, the group promoted the film “JESUS.” The film’s producers want the 1979 film played publicly as long as no fee is charged.
Shultz couldn’t pin down whether other clubs had paid licensing fees to show movies but did find another example on campus.
“I know that Student Activities does,” Shultz said, referring to such events as Family Movie Night in the Student Union.
Wright also cited a lack of support from club adviser Dr. Sharon Araji, chair of the Sociology Department, as another reason for his resignation.
He said Araji hasn’t had enough time for the group due to other department commitments but that she had helped the group put on programs relating to women’s studies.
“I believe that had this been a woman’s studies issue, she would’ve been more responsive,” Wright said. “She’s done a lot to make this a diverse and sociable campus for all students but she took us by surprise by not supporting this.”
Araji, who became director of women’s studies after it moved under the sociology umbrella this year, said Wright’s claim is untrue.
“I don’t know where he’s getting this idea that I’m playing favorites with the women’s studies program,” Araji said. “My decision was based on the legal liabilities that this could open for everybody.”
Araji purchased the film on DVD for the sociology department. On the morning of Oct. 21, Wright asked her for the film but she declined his request, fearing that he would show it and open Araji and the club to a lawsuit.
Despite stepping down, Wright is still a member of the club and said he will “remain proactive” in his quest to get the documentary shown at UAA. Also a Union of Students senator, he approached his fellow senators for support.
Wright said Katie Walsh, the club’s vice president, had stepped up to be president following his resignation. Araji said that Walsh and fellow club member Sarah Fontaine asked a more senior club member, treasurer Karen Landis, to accept the leadership role until AKD members meet Oct. 27 to decide the club’s future.
Shultz wants to put an end to talk of censorship and hopes the club will move past the controversy.
“I’d be happy to have the film brought to campus. I think it’s a wonderful way for students to get engaged with a controversial issue and educate one another,” Schultz said. “But I’m disappointed that three days have gone by and there hasn’t been any constructive effort to get it here.”
Araji said Shultz has been nothing but supportive regarding the situation.
Shultz talked to an unnamed member of Friends of AKD Oct. 22 regarding the possibility of other clubs partnering with the group to come up with the funds to bring the movie to UAA before the Nov. 2 election.
According to its Web site, Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. owns the distribution rights to all Lion’s Gate Films, including “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
“We’re talking about $675. If they could develop a collaborative effort with six other clubs, it’s about $100 apiece and the movie is here,” Shultz said. “But it’s a time-sensitive issue because the movie has to be shipped.”
Schultz and Araji said the situation could have been prevented with better communication between the parties involved.
“If this was an activity that we were aware they wanted to do, we would’ve certainly steered them in the right direction from the beginning,” Schultz said.