PARK CITY, Utah — Following an afternoon screening of a documentary about a campus sex case called "Raw Deal: A Question of Consent," a man sitting near the front of the audience raised his hand and said to the film's director, Billy Corben, "I can't believe they allow things like this in the festival. It's pornography."
The man then compared it to a documentary at last year's festival that featured a woman having sex with hundreds of men. Corben, who looks like what he is, a suburban college kid--rather than, say, Larry Flynt--just stood there, hands clasped, nodding judiciously, as if the guy had made a good point. The director then took a less confrontational question from another audience member. After Corben answered it, the first guy piped up again. And again. And again.
This amateur critic wasn't the only one who wouldn't shut up about "Raw Deal" (which was picked up late last week for distribution by Artisan Studios). Each screening inflamed audiences. Corben says that one Q&A after an 11:30 p.m. screening lasted until 2:30 in the morning. The discussion didn't end there, either. Audience members followed him and producer Alfred Spellman into the lobby and onto the street. After a daytime screening, a Park City bus was the scene of another debate, much to the alarm of the other passengers, half of whom were on their cell phones.
"They [the screenings] got progressively harder, Q&A-wise, as word of mouth built around it," says Corben, sitting in a frantically busy Park City coffee shop. Then he adds dryly, "Things can get a little heated."
The way Corben describes it, "Raw Deal" is a "he said, she said" account of an alleged sexual incident at the University of Florida involving, among others, Michael Yarhaus, a member of the Delta Chi fraternity, and Lisa Gier King, a stripper whom the fraternity had hired. In the film, the fraternity brothers tell their side of the story, King tells hers, and the lawyers and other advocates put in their two cents.
But it's not simply a talking-heads picture. Interspersed between the interviews and then increasingly taking up screen time is footage of the events leading up to the sex act, shot on video by the frat brothers themselves.
And it is this footage, which has been in the public domain for more than a year, that really drives audiences up the wall. Not only is it graphic and disturbing, but it's also incredibly ambiguous. It shows King and another girl giving lap dances to the men, then King alone (the other girl has gone home) frolicking naked with the them, and finally, King engaged in what might be considered sex play with Yarhaus.
Depending on whom you believe, she's either egging him on or keeping him at bay. What is incontestable is that everyone is very drunk. If nothing else, it's a chilly antidote to the relatively mild soft-core porn shown on late-night cable TV.
Needless to say, Corben and Spellman were not unaware of how upsetting this material is. They'd even been warned by festival co-director Geoffrey Gilmore. "[Gilmore] says, 'Listen, this is going to be the most talked-about film at this festival,' " recalls Spellman. "There was a very, very careful warning about the Q&As afterward: Duck."
In some ways, meeting opposition head-on was nothing new to these guys. They had just wrapped their first feature film when they decided to do a documentary on the case, which had been all over the Florida papers for months. So they moved from Miami, where they both live, to Gainesville, where the incident took place. There, they were rebuffed by the police, the state attorney's office, the campus chapter of the National Organization of Women, and the principals in the case.
The police and the prosecutors didn't want to talk to them in part because they were just a couple of 22-year-old nobodies, in part because officials had already come under fire for the way they'd handled the case. First, after viewing the tapes, officials decided that King's allegations that she had been raped were baseless and charged her with filing a false report. Then they made the tapes public. "Inside Edition," "Extra," "Hard Copy," "Dateline NBC" and other news/entertainment organizations requested copies. Bootleg editions were sold on the street for $20.
The local community was outraged. Taken aback, officials then tried to make everyone happy. They dropped the charge against King, replacing it with charges of prostitution, assignation and operating an escort service without a license. Six members of the fraternity were also charged, with soliciting and engaging in prostitution, lewdness and assignation, and remaining in a structure of prostitution. Corben's attempts to get official comment on all this are documented on screen by "Roger and Me"-style ambushes of State Atty. Rod Smith.