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Warner Backs Away From Antiwar Film

September 02, 2004|Robert W. Welkos and Elaine Dutka | Times Staff Writers

Warner Bros. has scrapped plans to release director David O. Russell's anti-Iraq-war documentary on the eve of the November elections, concerned that its strong political content may place the studio in violation of federal election laws.

The move left Russell "surprised and disappointed," he said. His 35-minute film, "Soldiers Pay," was to be attached to the DVD and theatrical re-release of "Three Kings," the 1999 hit action film starring George Clooney.

The decision was made by Barry M. Meyer, chairman and chief executive of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., a unit of Time Warner Inc., after consultation with his studio chief, Alan Horn, and other executives who viewed the film. Russell said he learned of the decision Aug. 26 but continued talks into this week in hopes of a different resolution. The studio's position remained unchanged.

"Warner Bros. does not think it's appropriate to attach this polemic to an entertainment piece," studio spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti said. "We don't think it's appropriate to marry these two things."

The studio said it pulled back from "Soldiers Pay" after receiving legal advice that it could be problematic for a corporation to release a film with a political agenda aimed at affecting the November elections. Plans to re-release Russell's "Three Kings" in a limited number of theaters along with a new DVD version remain on track for now.

Russell learned there was a Federal Election Commission issue rearing its head from his agents, Ari Emanuel and John Lesher at Endeavor Agency. "It's far from a polemic," the director said Wednesday by phone during his vacation in Hawaii. "It takes a point of view that questions the way the war went down ... but it's not black and white, it's not Michael Moore," referring to "Fahrenheit 9/11."

"Three Kings" is about three U.S. soldiers who pull off a heist of Kuwaiti gold during the Persian Gulf War. Russell suggested to the studio that he revisit Iraq in light of the current war and find out what happened to some of the Iraqis he had used as extras and advisors on the movie. The studio approved and funded the $180,000 project.

Russell, whose co-directors were Juan Carlos Zaldivar and Tricia Regan, said he was happy that Warner Bros. had decided to give the documentary back to him.

"I'm sure we can get it out through the Internet or HBO," he said, adding that he was glad "Three Kings" would be released before the election.

Russell noted that there was an hour of additional footage that the studio did not object to and will include on the DVD, which he said features an actor in "Three Kings" doing an imitation of Saddam Hussein. It also features Russell screening the film at the Clinton White House in 1999.

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