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Fight Over Gulf War Film Escalates

Warner executives tell director David Russell logistical problems are preventing a pre-election release.

September 04, 2004|Elaine Dutka | Times Staff Writer

A clash between David O. Russell and Warner Bros. over the DVD re-release of his Gulf War film "Three Kings" intensified Thursday as studio executives informed the filmmaker the video could not be released before the November election.

The news came days after the movie studio's decision to drop his 35-minute antiwar documentary, "Soldiers Pay," as a DVD bonus feature because of its political content.

In the documentary, the director revisits some of the Iraqi extras and advisors from the 1999 film "Three Kings" and the result is not favorable to the current administration.

"I am contemplating having a press conference with a 1st Amendment lawyer ... next Tuesday to say that this is censorship and an infringement of the 1st Amendment based on political opinions," Russell said by e-mail from Hawaii where he was vacationing.

Russell has been outspoken about having his film and the documentary influence the political debate in the manner of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." He is looking for alternative distribution for "Soldiers Pay," which cost $180,000 to make, but had been pressing the studio to release the "Three Kings" DVD in October supported by a limited theatrical run.

Studio executives say logistical problems rather than political concerns preclude a pre-election release.

The studio says it needs 60 days after the final delivery of the material to manufacture, distribute and market the DVD before its release. Controversy surrounding the documentary, combined with a later-than-expected arrival of the bonus footage, has made that a release before November untenable, insiders say.

Russell challenges that assertion: "They claim it's now a matter of logistics ... whereas one week ago it was possible," he said by e-mail, "and I think if they really wanted to they could make it happen right now."

The director says Warner Chairman Barry M. Meyer told him he was in favor of releasing "Three Kings" before the election, "but the people under him seem to be in such a state of panic that they have no intention of doing so.... I'm still hoping, but now we're told Meyer is unreachable blah blah till next week, then it will be 'too late' for sure."

The studio denies that the postponement reflects a lack of support for the film. The movie was selected for re-release -- along with "THX 1138," "The Big Red One" and "The Shawshank Redemption" -- because studio higher-ups liked it and thought it had underperformed.

In "Three Kings," a trio of soldiers pull off a heist of Kuwaiti gold during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The movie is a counterpoint to the media's portrayal of the conflict, characterizing the war as a hallucination marked by chaos and moral confusion.

A first-quarter 2005 release date for the DVD and the limited theatrical run is now considered likely, and a final determination is expected by the end of next week.

"It's highly unlikely that anyone is going to give up theaters at holiday time or prime Oscar season, " Warner spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti said.

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