By Indiewire | Indiewire March 1, 2002 at 2:00AM
DAILY NEWS: Phelps' Hate in NYC; and ContentFilm Pact
with articles by Eugene Hernandez, Matthew Ross and Brian Brooks/indieWIRE
>> Homophobic Minister Fred Phelps to Picket NY Underground Festival; Hateful Preacher Denounces Downtown Event as "Fag Propaganda"
(indieWIRE: 03.01.02) -- Next week's New York Underground Film Festival
(NYUFF) will have an unlikely visitor, infamous homophobic minister Fred
Phelps who is condemning the event as "fag propaganda." The news of Phelp's
intention to picket the festival will end up being a major PR hit for all
involved: the festival, Phelps, and a new documentary about the minister --
a movie that isn't even playing during the event.
"Its nothing but a gaggle of tired old fudgepackers and muffdivers trying to
shock each other with their jaded filth," Phelps says in news release
promoting the demonstration at the Festival. The announcement was forwarded
to indieWIRE yesterday by the NYUFF and is set to be picked up by mainstream
news outlets this weekend.
Phelps apparently caught wind of the underground festival after "Fred The
Movie," a new documentary about him, was submitted to the Festival by
filmmaker Steve Drain and later rejected by NYUFF programmers.
Betty Phelps, the minister's daughter-in-law, confirmed for indieWIRE
yesterday that Fred Phelps would indeed be at the New York Underground Film
Festival on March 9th, even though the doc will not. "The reason for us
being there is to protest the filth," commented Betty Phelps in the
conversation with indieWIRE yesterday. She indicated that about 20 people
are traveling to New York from Kansas as part of their entourage. She also
said that the group will make an appearance uptown at HBO earlier in the
day, to protest their upcoming movie, "The Laramie Project," about the
horrific gay-bashing death of college student Matthew Shepard in
Phelps has been an outspoken advocate against Shepard. The preacher taunted
mourners in a demonstration at his funeral and Phelps has created a website
which includes propaganda condemning Shepard. "The Laramie Project," which
includes scenes depicting homophobic protestors like Phelps, opened this
year's Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church information promoting next week's protest in
New York says that the NYUFF is misrepresenting itself as a "consumer"
festival. He contends, in the flyer sent to indieWIRE, that the NYUFF is
rather a "fag propaganda mill masquerading as a film fest." The news release
also includes drawings of protest signs with the messages, "Thank God for
Sept. 11," "NYC FDNY Fags," and "God Hates NYC Fags."
Festival chief Ed Halter is welcoming the increased attention at his
downtown New York City event. "We are considering naming him an honorary
publicist for the festival," Halter told indieWIRE last night. Asked how he
will handle the demonstration, Halter seems unfazed by the hateful messages
that will be presented outside his event. He also indicated that he may try
to meet the minister. "I will probably thank him for the publicity, and I
may try to introduce him to my Mom," Halter said.
"Fred The Movie," the documentary about Phelps, screened at the Anchorage
Film Festival in December and will screen at the Washington DC Indie Fest
next week, as well as the Hollywood Underground Film Festival in May.
"The film that I made more accurately and fairly depicts the church's
ministry than any print or news story," Drain told indieWIRE yesterday. When
asked for his assessment of Phelps, Drain offered, "I think he has more
honesty and integrity in him then anyone I've ever met, he's going to tell
you what's on his mind. He honestly believes he's serving God, (he)
honestly believes that in his heart."
indieWIRE has not seen the film, but according to Halter the film "errs on
the supportive side." However, Halter clarified that its slant is not
totally clear. Finally, he added that the movie was rejected by the
Festival because, "It is not a very well made doc." Betty Phelps told
indieWIRE that she and Fred Phelps have seen the movie, adding that it
"pretty accurately portrays" their message.
Drain indicated that he has submitted his film to numerous gay and lesbian
film festivals, but thus far has been met with rejections. "There isn't
anything more relevant to the gay community than a film about someone who
says what you do is wrong," Drain countered. "I know people who are gay who
have watched this film who say that it has journalistic integrity."
Asked to speak about his own views of the church and its message, the
filmmaker remained coy, saying flatly, "This isn't a film about what Steve
Drain thinks." However he is blunt about his stance that media outlets have
thus far failed to accurately portray Phelps and his church. "I've seen
literally hundreds of news stories about this church and this church's
ministry -- the easiest thing to do is to come to a church like that and
shoot stuff that makes them look like a bunch of buffoons." Continuing he
added, "Just because they have a viewpoint that is not popular doesn't mean
that they are not sincere -- I am not doing the same kind of yellow
journalism -- like them or hate them its like a train wreck, you've got to
Halter admitted that he was initially concerned about the impact of Phelps'
propaganda being presented outside his Festival, but he added that in a way,
Phelp's is "gay people's best friend." Explaining, Halter added, "He is such
a lunatic, he is giving a bad name to homophobia -- he's a kook, he paints
that kind of stance as crazy and demonic." [Eugene Hernandez and Brian
>> Content Inks Furst/WMA Deal, Goes "Hebrew"
(indieWIRE/ 03.01.02) -- As the band of upstart distibution companies continue
to battle for position and branding identity in the specialty film arena,
Edward R. Pressman and John Schimdt's ContentFilm has begun flexing its financing muscles. The company has entered into a two-year "strategic alliance"
with Furst Films, the L.A.-based production house run by Sean Furst, and WMA Independent, the independent film representation division of the William Morris Agency, which is co-headed by Rena Ronson and Cassian Elwes.
Under the Furst Film/WMA deal, potential DV projects will be evaluated and
brought to Pressman and Schmidt by producer Sean Furst and his company, which
will develop and ultimately produce those projects to which ContentFilm gives
a green light and chooses to finance. Development will be headed by Furst
Films' Bryan Furst, who will serve as co-producer as the films are shot.
Along with bringing agency talent into the mix, WMA Independent may also
help identify additional financing, assist in packaging the projects and,
on a case-by-case basis, assist in the project's possible sale.
The first product of this new alliance, and the first feature to be greenlit
by ContentFilm since the company was launched in September, is "The Cooler,"
a dark comedy set in Las Vegas starring William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin. Set to begin production in May, the film was written by Frank Hannah and
Wayne Kramer and and will be directed by Kramer. Sean Furst and Michael
Pierce of Pierce-Williams are producing, and Content's Pressman, Schmidt
and Alessando Camon will executive produce along with Brett Morrison and Robert Gryphon of L.A.-based Gryphon Films.
"Industry response to ContentFilm has been tremendous since we launched
the company," said Pressman in a prepared statement. "This alliance with
Sean, in conjunction with the additional expertise of Rena, Cassian and
William Morris, will allow us to move quickly to meet our goal of making
about a dozen films in the next couple of years."
In a separate deal, Content has greenlit "The Hebrew Hammer," an action
comedy starring Adam Goldberg. Jonathan Kesselman will direct the film,
which will be produced by his brother Josh. Described as a "Jewxploitation"
picture in the vein of "Shaft," the film tells the story of Mordechai
(Goldberg), a handsome, Orthodox stud who goes on a mission to save
Hanukkah. ContentFilm hopes to begin production on the film in New York
by late April. [Matthew Ross]