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Theaters pull plug on 'Enduring Freedom'

Regal denies it was motivated by complaints about the military documentary.

October 18, 2002|Dana Calvo | Times Staff Writer

To the chagrin of its producers, Regal Cinemas has abruptly pulled "Enduring Freedom: The Opening Chapter," a movie trailer by the U.S. Marines and Navy that had played on hundreds of screens since mid-September.

Initially, the company said it was planning a gradual national rollout for the short film. The decision to stop running the 4-minute, 48-second piece came Tuesday, the same day The Times published a story on the unusual $1.2-million project and viewer reaction to it.

Executives said they were not acting in response to complaints that it had overtones of propaganda or that it had exposed children to a disturbing image from Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's run its course," said Kurt Hall, chief executive of Regal CineMedia, a subsidiary of Regal Entertainment Group, which owns Regal Cinemas. Hall said it was yanked from theaters in Los Angeles, Denver, New York and Knoxville, Tenn., because the company had completed limited testing of new digital technology that enables Regal to download advertisements and trailers from a satellite, rather than relying on a traditional reel.

It has not ruled out the possibility of replaying the trailer in January, after the glut of holiday movies,with its consequent fierce competition to place film trailers before audiences, has subsided.

In Tuesday's story, The Times quoted one mother concerned that her children had to see a passenger jet crashing into the World Trade Center before a showing of the G-rated "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie."

Others said they saw inappropriate political commentary in the trailer.

"There's not a single thing in there about Iraq, other than 'This is what the military is about,' " said Eric Vesbit, a 31-year-old recording engineer in Philadelphia who saw the trailer online and sent an outraged e-mail to Regal, the nation's largest movie exhibitors. "But the difference is that the Bush administration is gearing toward a war that I firmly disagree with. Therefore, I do view it as propaganda and not just advertising. This is kind of a tame version, a non-Iraq version, which is just getting us used to the idea that the military is going to be putting these sorts of films in front of our eyes."

"Enduring Freedom" is not a recruiting commercial but a look at the work of the 80,000 soldiers and sailors who have been deployed around the world since the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Even though it was played for general audiences, the trailer was not rated by the Motion Picture Assn. of America because it was categorized as a documentary.

Lt. Col. James Kuhn, who created the trailer, said the military was simply attempting to make moviegoers aware of the sacrifices the armed forces make.

"All those young Marines and sailors are willing to put their lives on the line to have a country where we can have this kind of dialogue -- people disagreeing," he said.

For Lance O'Connor, owner of American Rogue Films, which made and produced the film, Regal's decision was disappointing. He spent months gaining unprecedented access to military operations and several months whittling down 250 hours of film. On Thursday morning, when Kuhn told him Regal had pulled "Enduring Freedom," he was furious.

"Someone's creating trouble by saying we're creating rah-rah propaganda reaching 5-year-olds, and the Pentagon doesn't confront trouble," O'Connor said.

"But because of the 5% of the population who says they saw it with their kids and were offended, or that it's propaganda, they're ruining it for everyone," he added.

When pressed about complaints circulating on e-mail and phone lines, Hall said the cinematic project attracted far more positive comments than negative ones.

"The Marine Corps was trying to get this qualified for an Academy Award," Hall said.

"It's a very good piece of filmmaking, and as with any piece of filmmaking, there are people who are going to like it and people who are not going to like it."

Last week, Regal and the military conducted surveys of theatergoers who saw the trailer, and they say the data will be available next week. They expect to be able to show there was broad support for the project.

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