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Critic’s Notebook: Was Caveh Zahedi “Blacklisted” By Thom Powers? It’s More Complicated Than That

Critic's Notebook: Was Caveh Zahedi "Blacklisted" By Thom Powers? It's More Complicated Than That

In early March, one week shy of the SXSW Film Festival, I received a secure link to view “The Sheik and I” online. Set to premiere in competition at SXSW, this was the latest provocation from performance artist/filmmaker Caveh Zahedi, whose reputation precedes him: Using a diary-like approach to make audiences uncomfortably intimate with his rabble-rousing, intensely neurotic persona, Zahedi’s antics stretch back more than 20 years: They began with his debut feature, “A Little Stiff,” and continued with later works like 2005’s self-explanatory “I Am a Sex Addict.” Needless to say, I figured “The Sheik and I” would push some familiar buttons, but could not have predicted the series of conflicts that it would create.

First off: I loved “The Sheik and I.” A documentary essay narrated by Zahedi, it follows his comically doomed attempts to take on an assignment from the Sharjah Biennial arts festival a year ago, when a pair of curators from the Sharjah Art Foundation contacted Zahedi about producing a short film illustrating “art as a subversive act.” With his wife and toddler in tow, Zahedi travels to the small Middle Eastern country with clear-cut intentions of stirring up trouble.

That’s fair enough, given the dubious assignment, but regardless of what his hosts initially hoped to get from him it’s clear that he went further than they expected: Constantly engaging locals (including young children) to perform stereotypical religious behavior, he constructs the plot of an ugly B-movie that revolves around an attempt to kidnap the elusive Sheik of Sharjah, whom he never meets. Many of Zahedi’s subjects grow fearful of the project, afraid that even appearing on camera may endanger their lives. But we know about their reservations, of course, because Zahedi put them into the movie.

Using snippets of conversations and failed attempts to shoot his short film, Zahedi strings his narrative along with animations and voiceover bits that elaborate on his battle to finish the project even after the Sharjah Art Foundation decides to censor him. While indicting dictatorial extremes, Zahedi also more generally champions freedom of speech by making sweeping remarks about creative expression that demands to break rules. The dissonance between his patently silly approach and grave intentions never entirely flow together, but that’s key to the film’s subversive effect. While he eventually lands a legal arrangement with the Sharjah Government allegedly claiming that nobody associated with the movie will come to harm, it’s impossible not to sympathize with their increasingly hazardous situation as a result of Zahedi’s insistence on making his movie. By forcing that discomfort on his audience, Zahedi makes them engage with the movie’s central themes.

Many viewers may find Zahedi’s approach simple-minded regardless of the intentions behind it, but I had no qualms about voicing my own support for the movie on Twitter ahead of writing my review. Then the situation became more complicated. More than a passive observer of Zahedi’s satiric tactics, I suddenly felt like part of them.  

Three days after Zahedi sent me the film, I received an email from Thom Powers in response to my tweet. Virtually anyone invested in the documentary film community knows the New York-based programmer, who maintains a unique prominence in the insular world of the film festival circuit. In addition to handling the prominent lineup for the Toronto International Film Festival, Powers provides programming assistance for the Miami International Film Festival, runs the “Stranger Than Fiction” series at New York’s IFC Center, curates the documentary selection for the streaming service SundanceNow, and oversees the fall nonfiction festival DOC NYC with his wife Raphaela Neihausen. He was also hired by Bob Feinberg to program the Monclair Film Festival, which is known to receive great support from Stephen Colbert. That’s what Zahedi says motivated him to contact Powers: An avowed Colbert fan, Zahedi figured the winking satirist might appreciate “The Sheik and I,” and hoped that Powers could bring it to his attention.

Instead, Powers says he was horrified by the movie, characterizing it as a breach of documentary ethics that puts multiple lives at risk. “The film is framed as championing artistic freedom,” Powers wrote me, “but rather than bearing the brunt of risk himself, Caveh put the greater risk on others.” One of those people was Rasha Salti, the Beirut-based curator for the Sharjah Art Foundation. Salti features prominently in Zahedi’s film, meeting with him about the idea behind the project and then routinely voicing her concerns about it in increasingly frantic Skype conversations. Salti also serves as a programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival’s African and Middle Eastern programming, making her one of Powers’ colleagues, so one can imagine that his investment in the ramifications of Zahedi’s film extended beyond mere principles. His e-mail to me concluded with a plea: “I do hope you keep this context in mind when thinking about the film.”

I wasn’t the only person Powers contacted that week. In addition to sending similar notes to two other journalists, Powers contacted SXSW’s top programmer, Janet Pierson, imploring her to cancel the film’s world premiere. Powers says he also contacted Zahedi around this time with the bold suggestion that the filmmaker himself withdraw the film, but did not hear back. Powers has serious clout in the documentary world, but in this case he couldn’t stop the pieces already in motion: “The Sheik and I” premiered at SXSW to contentious reaction, and several reviews (including my own) praised it.

However, his actions bring up another issue: Should any programmer have the authority to contact festivals and make demands on their programming decisions? Powers wields enough influence to make his arguments have more impact than any given angry viewer. Like it or not, Zahedi’s film engages with freedom of speech; Powers’ insistence that festivals not show the movie runs counter to the the specific arguments found in it.

For me, “The Sheik and I” delivers a trenchant exposé of what can happen to a society that restricts its citizens from critiquing the boundaries imposed on them. There’s a distinction between the moral quandaries involving the film’s creation and the analysis of censorship in areas of the Middle East — which only exists because of the extreme measures Zahedi chose to take. I decided to introduce that conclusion into my review starting with the headline: “Caveh Zahedi Puts Lives in Danger and Faces a Fatwa for ‘The Sheik and I.’ Immoral or Essential? Try Both.”

I don’t know if Powers appreciated my reaction to the movie, but he can take some credit for my approach. At this point, however, I had to contend with Zahedi, who wrote a letter to my editor contesting the implication of immorality in his filmmaking tactics. I reached out to Zahedi to clarify my position, which led to a friendly correspondence in which he hinted at attempts by “certain persons” to prevent the film from being seen that had put him on edge. Our discussion carried over into a public conversation in front of a live audience during SXSW as part of a series co-hosted by Indiewire at the festival. There, Zahedi briefly mentioned Powers’ disdain for the movie and pointed out that he had contacted me, but mainly the dialogue revolved about the aesthetic issues surrounding the film — particularly the way it takes a set of expectations and pushes them to a breaking point.

It continues to do that. “The Sheik and I” has now divided audiences around the world, including the Sheffield Doc/Fest in June, where Zahedi also faced a contentious post-screening Q&A. In August, Zahedi contacted me to see if I would do an interview for a short film he was producing in conjunction with the film’s release (which was then scheduled for November). Not interested in placing myself into this particular narrative for material that could be funneled into a marketing tactic, I chose not to respond. This week, ahead of today’s opening of “The Sheik and I” at Brooklyn’s Videology screening space, Zahedi sent along an eight-minute account of the SXSW events (including a clip from our SXSW conversation), dubiously titling the work “I Was Blacklisted By Thom Powers.”

Like “The Sheik and I,” the short is solely carried by Zahedi’s first-person approach, and his whiny style makes it hard to tell when he’s messing with you. (Watch it below.) While his complaint about Powers holds a certain objective validity — Zahedi made a movie and this guy tried to get in his way — Zahedi naturally takes the situation to an absurd extreme by characterizing Powers as a tyrannical antagonist on par with the Sheik of Sharjah (and, via the title of the video, Joseph McCarthy).

On Thursday, Powers, who until now declined to speak openly about the situation, released a public statement. Pointing out that he selected Zahedi’s “I Am a Sex Addict” for SundanceNow’s Doc Club earlier this year, Powers insisted that he had only taken action because “I thought the issues were serious enough to warrant further consideration.” Understandably, he resented Zahedi’s invoking of the McCarthy-era blacklist, “when filmmakers had their livelihoods threatened,” and noted the irony “that Zahedi stands on the ground of free speech, yet wants to smear me for exercising mine.”  

Powers’ statement more or less straightens things up for one reason: Despite his considerable efforts, “The Sheik and I” still got its big festival premiere, plenty of positive reviews and distribution with indie label Factory 25. Zahedi received ample exposure for the movie and now has the opportunity to make money on it.

However, while Powers’ efforts may have been a lost cause, his willingness to make them in the first place raises another troubling question. Because he programs for so many festivals, Powers’ public attempt to censor “The Sheik and I” encourages the perception that he maintains far too much singular weight in the festival community. If one programmer can stifle any movie he or she finds offensive, it establishes a precedent antithetical to the expansive nature of public discourse, regardless of the medium or its potential to create harm. One can engage with the flaws of Zahedi’s approach by watching his movie, but Powers also engaged in an inelegant maneuver that he now must answer for.

Powers — a smart, cultured man whose passion for nonfiction cinema is obviously genuine — gets that. “I didn’t want people treating the film lightly,” he told me in a phone conversation on Thursday. “Maybe it’s hubristic of me to think I needed to add to their sensitivity, but given the volatility of the context of the film, I was willing to air my complaints.” While clearly taken aback by Zahedi’s response, Powers stands by his initial reaction. “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a filmmaker who ever had such a gross negligence of ethics as those expressed in the film,” he said.

That’s also why, he says, filmmakers and programmer shouldn’t feel intimidated by Powers’ alleged grasp on the festival community. While he declined to comment on whether his connection with the TIFF programmer who appears in Zahedi’s movie played a role in his opposition to it, Powers pointed out that he has never made such a blatant attempt to suppress a movie before. Whether or not he wears too many programming hats (many of us are mostly curious about how he wears so many programming hats), the tenuous notion that he has abused his authority holds as much water as Powers’ original suggestion that festivals not show the film.

“Look, what’s disappointing to me is that I think the conversation of this film should be the safety of the people in it,” he said. “Caveh says in the video that he got someone to sign a contact guaranteeing their safety. But what recourse did he have? The real victory for him is that he got the right to show his film.”

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John G

I don't like the sound of this Thom Powers guy throwing his considerable weight around seemingly as a favour to a close friend, and I haven't seen The Sheik and I, but I do have an insight regarding one of Caveh Zahedi's previous films I Don't hate Las Vegas anymore.

I saw this two weeks ago off the back of seeing, and enjoying, two of Zahedi's other films. I didn't enjoy it so much, yet it was highly interesting as a documentary excersise; however what matters here is that it struck me as deeply unethical. The guy plies his aging father and very young (a minor? I remember he was mid-teens) brother with exstacy (which they have never taken before) over and over, using various appeals to their conscience as a kind of emotional blackmail, until, under the influence of alcohol, first the father succumbs and then the brother; both visibly worn down by the pleading, tired and a little tipsy. Fortunately they both enjoy the experience and seemingly no-one is harmed.

There are too points here: I support the validity of such a film getting an airing; all while I am shocked by the lack of ethics of the film-maker. If Caveh Zahedi was my older brother I would disown him. I speak as someone who has taken a lot of E, and lot of other things too, but I've never pushed anything onto anyone or introduced anyone to anything.

Peter Rinaldi

Now that Thom Powers' worst nightmare regarding this film has come true — people are talking about, and watching, "The Sheik and I" (perhaps, ironically, due to his campaign to get it dismissed)– maybe it's time to consider something that will do some good for everyone involved and the filmmaking public at large: I think Thom Powers should accept Zahedi's challenge to publicly debate the topic of ethics in documentary films.

It would be interesting, informative and civil and it would show the film world just how important and relevant Non-Fiction films are today and how they come head-on against these large issues that have, potentially, huge ramifications.

Perhaps Powers and Zahedi could be just two of many people in the debate, and this situation can only be the jumping off point on larger ethical topics that involve other films. Go ahead, tell me why this can't/won't happen.

Jordan Litt

I haven't seen the film yet but it seems to me that this article frames a philosophical debate that is not new. It addresses several questions but the overarching one was framed by Immanuel Kant: Do we as a society allow something that is likely to benefit the greater good even if it puts a small amount of people at risk. I would assume that by taking part in a film that purports to investigate the subversive nature of film (especially in the middle east), these people probably already know they are putting themselves at risk and are probably doing so because they believe so fervently in the idea of freedom of speech. The world is unsafe but we can't allow this to make us afraid of our shadow. I, for one, am very interested in seeing this film now. Thanks Eric.

Caveh Zahedi

There are a few things that Eric Kohn fails to mention in his article that I would like to add to the conversation.

1) When Kohn's Indiewire review of THE SHEIK AND I came out. I contacted him to dispute the title of the piece "Zahedi Puts Lives at Danger and Faces a Fatwa for ‘The Sheik & I.’ Immoral or Essential? Try both." My point was that his title makes it sound like a fact that the film puts lives in danger rather than a question. Whether or not my film actually puts lives in danger is a valid question to bring up and my film explicitly brings it up. But it’s not a truth statement and yet was being presented as such.

Kohn explained to me that he had chosen that title for his review because he had previously been contacted by Powers and felt he needed to respond to his allegations against my film. In so doing, Kohn allowed Powers to frame the terms of the debate, which is exactly what Powers wanted. Instead of responding to the film on its own terms and in his own way, Kohn became the unwitting mouth organ for Powers’ views about my film. And yet, he never once bothered to reach out to me for my take on Power’s allegations.

Kohn admits as much. But what he fails to mention is that I asked for a retraction and that he offered, instead, to let me write my own rebuttal for Indiewire’s "Point of View" section. Fair enough.

So I wrote a piece about Powers’ behind-the-scenes attempts to blacklist my film not only by reaching out to journalists but also to programmers, all of whom were reluctant to have this become public knowledge. I also outed him on his ethically suspect non-disclosure of his relationship to Rasha Salti, his TIFF colleague who appears in my film. Kohn read my article and assured me it would be published. When it wasn’t published as planned, he explained that it would be published on the following day. This went on for several days until he finally informed me that Indiewire had decided not to publish my article after all. The reason he gave was that it focused too heavily on Thom Powers’s attempts to blacklist my film and Indiewire didn't want to "take sides."

When I mentioned this to Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks (former Indiewire editors) at a party, they both expressed surprise. Brian pointed out that a "Point of View” section is not intended to be Indiewire's point of view but someone else's. He added that if Indiewire didn’t want to “take sides,” they could simply offer Thom Powers a similar opportunity to respond in their "Point of View" section.

No one would write about this. So I decided to make a short film about it and to post the film to youTube. I titled the film I WAS BLACKLISTED BY THOM POWERS. The film included a scene with Eric Kohn and generated enough buzz that nine months after refusing to publish my article about Thom Powers' attempts to blacklist my film, Kohn finally publishes an article about the “blacklisting” question.

In his article, he quotes a recent phone conversation with Thom Powers and then concludes:: “The tenuous notion that he [Thom Powers] has abused his authority holds as much water as Powers' original suggestion that festivals not show the film.” But Kohn came to this conclusion without ever bothering to reach out to hear my side of the story.

Scott Macaulay, the editor of Filmmaker magazine (and another journalist contacted by Thom Powers), published a piece about the “blacklist” the same day as Kohn. For his article, he contacted both Powers and myself and quotes us both. Why didn't Kohn do the same thing? Doesn’t Kohn’s approach violate standards of professional journalism? Why would a journalist writing about a he said/he said dispute only speak to one of that dispute’s participants before “concluding” that Thom Powers’ abuse of his authority is a tenuous notion.

In response, I emailed Kohn to ask if Indiewire would finally allow me to write something for their "Point of View" section. His answer was: "'We've discussed this internally and decided that we've already sufficiently addressed the issue on our site."

I hold Eric Kohn in the highest esteem. He has a razor-sharp mind and is a superlative writer. But this is either very sloppy journalism or Mr. Kohn has a hidden agenda.

Independent filmmakers rarely speak out against such lapses of professionalism because no struggling filmmaker wants to offend an Indiewire film critic, for fear of a negative review of one's next movie or, worse, no review at all. But the fact is that until we, as filmmakers, speak out publicly against those in positions of power who abuse that power, however subtly, the system is not going to change. Checks and balances are what keep a system honest, but where are the checks and balances in the independent film world? I don’t see any.

The point I’m trying to make is that it's not only film programmers who wield undue power and influence in the independent film community. It's also the independent film media who have their own secret alliances and hidden agendas. The truth is that film critics are dependent to a certain extent on the good will of film programmers, and vice versa. As a result, few journalists are willing to rock the boat. But the consequence of this mutual dependence is a morally compromised situation in which it becomes less likely that film critics will publicly criticize the actions of a film programmer on whom they depend.

People make mistakes and that’s okay. We’re only human. But people should be accountable for the mistakes they make. This includes Thom Powers. And it also includes Eric Kohn. That's how less-than-optimal practices change.

If you would like to read my rebuttal of Mr. Kohn’s “conclusion,” you can do so at!blog/c17mp

T. A.

First, I applaud Thomas Powers. Documentary filmmaking techniques have today become synonomous with guerilla ambush interviews and selfish posturing; for Zahedi, filmmaking is simply a platform for reckless, manipulative self-promotion. Whether or not Powers went too far in opposing him is an issue far less important that the fact that–unlike many of those commenting here and making docs today–he actually demonstrated concern for someone other than himself. That in consequence he should be the one now being accused of acting unethically is simply a measure of how deep in their own honeybuckets his critics have buried their heads. Free speech rights shouldn't be a pass to do whatever you damn well please, especially if you leave other people holding the bill for your own reckless behavior.

Second, it bears pointing out that whatever power Thomas Powers has 'amassed' clearly isn't either as great or as dangerous as Kohn and his defenders would have everyone believe, or the premiere would have been cancelled. And to assert that critics and artists should have carte blanche to say whatever they want but that programmers shouldn't be allowed to voice critical opinions is the very epitome of hypocrisy.

T. A.

First, I applaud Thomas Powers. Documentary filmmaking techniques have today become synonomous with guerilla ambush interviews and selfish posturing; for Zahedi, filmmaking is simply a platform for reckless, manipulative self-promotion. Whether or not Powers went too far in opposing him is an issue far less important that the fact that–unlike many of those commenting here and making docs today–he actually demonstrated concern for someone other than himself. That in consequence he should be the one now being accused of acting unethically is simply a measure of how deep in their own honeybuckets his critics have buried their heads. Free speech rights shouldn't be a pass to do whatever you damn well please, especially if you leave other people holding the bill for your own reckless behavior.

Second, it bears pointing out that whatever power Thomas Powers has 'amassed' clearly isn't either as great or as dangerous as Kohn and his defenders would have everyone believe, or the premiere would have been cancelled. And to assert that critics and artists should have carte blanche to say whatever they want but that programmers shouldn't be allowed to voice critical opinions is the very epitome of hypocrisy.

Caveh Zahedi

The Abuse of Powers: My rebuttal to Thomas Powers' rebuttal.!blog/c17mp

Anonymous - also with reason

Neither side is absolutely right but both sides are absolutely problematic. Zahedi's not a particularly good filmmaker and to make up for it he "pushes buttons" and puts his self-interest above the safety of others. You can see from his films, plural, (if one is to believe what one sees on screen and the stories one hears from colleagues), his willingness to exploit and endanger others for his gain. But by the same token, it is my criticism of the unacceptable accumulation of power that Thom, uh, Powers has amassed, that has me writing this anonymously. I think it's obvious to everyone involved that one man should not have his finger on so many pressure points in the very small doc world. Much as I think this is mostly an attention grab from Zahedi (and one that engenders no desire to see him prancing around in yet another ego-stroking, pseudo self-deprecatory film by him), perhaps some good can come of it anyway, if the abuse of and accumulation of power by one man in the doc world is now examined. Most disturbing in all this is the idea of a festival programmer reaching out to press to try and spin their coverage. That's clearly unethical. Excellent coverage btw.

Thom Powers

I wish Indiewire's Eric Kohn would have taken the time to call Janet Pierson of SXSW to ask her view. Contrary to his characterization, that I was "imploring her to cancel the film's world premiere," she told me after his article came out that she didn't see it that way. She said, "You're welcome to tell people that I didn't feel unduly pressured – that I considered it no different from a recommendation which we do from time to time, and that it was totally appropriate behavior between professional colleagues." I conveyed this to Eric and IW editor Dana Harris in an email on Saturday morning and I'm sorry that it hasn't been revised. (I also noted another factual error – it wasn't Stephen Colbert who hired me for Montclair). In Filmmaker magazine, Zahedi emphasizes an objection that I spoke in private rather than public. My motivation to keep it private was that I didn't want to draw further attention to a film that I consider deeply unethical. Now my original private letters to him and others are published in Filmmaker for all to read. Perhaps I should have done that to begin with. Live and learn.

Peter Rinaldi

Most who write about this situation, no matter what side they are on, seem to think that 'Blacklist' is too strong of a word. But my feeling is, it's only too strong a word because his pleas didn't work. But if they DID, if SXSW pulled the film as a result of Powers' email and those journalists decided NOT to write favorably about the film because of the 'addition context' that was so heroically offered by Mr. Powers, would 'blacklist' be too strong of a word then?


I find this recent trend towards blaming films or filmmakers for violence disturbing. Mr. Powers' ire would have been better aimed at the individuals and groups that threaten or perpetrate violence against people simply for their words and opinions.

Anonymous for a reason

There absolutely should be a conversation about the specific ethics around this particular film, but that's a conversation that happens quite regularly around a lot of controversial docs, IE The Ambassador, The Queen of Versailles, etc.

The much more interesting aspect of this story is the idea of the film festival circuit devolving to a dictatorship overseen by one power-monger.
Think I'm being overly dramatic?

Consider this. If Thom Powers takes issue with your film, or you as a person, he can stop your doc getting into:

Toronto Int'l Film Festival
Miami Int'l Film Festival
The Monclair Film Festival
NY IFC's Stranger Than Fiction series
SundanceNow's Doc Club

That is a huge, huge chunk of the documentary realm. TIFF and DOC NYC alone wipes out a lot of the East Coast festival opportunities. And as for the other major East Coast doc festival, Hot Docs, consider that quite a few of the programmers who work for it also program (or in the past have done so) for TIFF, seasonally, and would be uneasy about falling out with Powers, a past or current employer.

And while Hot Docs head Charlotte Cook is strong enough to make her own decisions (as Janet Pierson evidently was with SXSW) if a doc is stopped from getting up the viewing chain to her then potentially take Hot Docs off the table too.

Commissioners and programmers in the doc community often have very strong opinions about docs – I know one commissioner who absolutely hated The Act of Killing for moral reasons, and I know several programmers who despised The Ambassador, for similar such 'ethics' concerns. And I wonder, if either of them had the sway that Thom Powers has, if those films would have ever seen the light of day.

Just because this film, Sheik & I, ended up getting released, does not prove the system works. Has Powers done this in the past? Leaned on other, smaller fests? Are there docs that would've come out that he's killed off?

I think this article is entirely correct in stating that Powers will have to account for emailing journos and telling them not to cover a doc which premiered at SXSW. That's a step pretty wide of his remit. And at TIFF, Cameron Bailey must really consider these actions, and how they reflect on the reputation of the Toronto festival.

Apologies for writing this comment anonymously, I would not normally, but I do so somewhat out of nervousness for my own position in the documentary community, and for the reasons as stated above.

Mike Ott

Great article Eric… well done!


I think it's hilarious how Thom Powers uses "It’s ironic that Zahedi stands on the ground of free speech, yet wants to smear me for exercising mine." as part of his defense when he clearly attempted to hamper Zahedi's film by using his influence. Islamic tolerance must come to an end. It should be examined/exposed/extricated and documentary filmmaking is a perfect way to do it.

Hal Evans

There are two issues here. One is the question of the filmmaking ethics. That can be debated by the community .

The other is one that TIFF and Sundance Selects should act to do something about. How did Thom Powers ever manage to accumulate this much power in the documentary community and how is he using/abusing it? He has taken his position at TIFF and has leveraged it to put a strangle-hold on a number of small festivals, on Sundance Selects, and on his own creations of STF and DOC NYC. This invites the kind of hubris and abuse of power that he showed in this situation. This is only the first time we've heard about his back room strong arming and double dealing. With as much influence as he has been able to acquire, one can figure that there is a lot more of this behavior going on that hasn't yet come to light and given his influence, maybe there are enough people afraid of him that it never will. But no filmmaker should have to fear a programmer who has built an empire. Or at least it shouldn't be supported by prestigious organizations like TIFF and Sundance Selects.

Mike Prittel

Kahedi can say all he wants in his film and suffer the consequences if there are any. But if someone he is interviewing says they do not want to be in the film for fear of their lives then he must omit that footage. Powers intentions were not censorship. Its about the possibility of someone getting killed for what they said on camera. If he can be blamed for anything is the way he went about dealing with this issue.
And by the way the anti Mohamed film was not the reason for the attack in Benghazi. Its been proven that this was a coordinated attack that had nothing to do with that youtube film. But Kahedi ignores that updated piece of information to further his agenda. What does that tell you about him?


Is it unfair to address ethics of filmmaking? Part of the documentary community is trying to be taken seriously as journalists, filmmakers with constitutional 'freedom of the press' protections. Part of the documentary world is dazzled by Reality entertainment's smashing of boundaries between fiction and journalism. What ethical standards does Reality adhere to? The low cost of Reality and pop crossover makes it very sexy. It is the audacity of "getting away with it", even if it means criminal film permit violations, release contract scams with interview subjects (guided by resourceful entertainment lawyers) that seems so trendy.

Powers may not have used the best approach, but the filmmaking community does need to have a serious discussion about the process of how some movies are made – and not just the entertainment value of the end product.


Programmers champion films, they smear them. Is it just? Is it warranted? Depends on which side of their judgement you stand. Zahedi made a funny, satirical film, and he probably crossed some ethical lines, but he certainly isn't the first to do so. Ask the critics of Michael Moore.


Eric: Balanced account of a difficult issue.


Thom's response:


Great scoop,Eric. Your piece points out an issue that is has never debated. Is freedom of the press absolute? is avoiding the exposure of people to life threatening situation more important than fop?


I'm squarely with Zahedi on this. Powers has no right trying to censor anyone's film. Does he really think that his interpretation of the film is the only valid one? I really question his judgment and his motives. Why not try to stop Mads Brugger, whose "The Ambassador" could also be seen as equally reckless? I think the ethical trespass is solely Powers' and his defense (he never made such a blatant attempt to suppress a movie before) is laughable.

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