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Why Did ITVS Take Away Funding from a Sundance Film It Had a Deal With?

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire May 20, 2013 at 12:59PM

In the New Yorker this week, journalist Jane Mayer asks if San Francisco-based ITVS was cowed by pressure from a former PBS board member, the incredibly wealthy philanthropist David Koch.
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"Citizen Koch."
"Citizen Koch."

In the New Yorker this week, journalist Jane Mayer asks if San Francisco-based ITVS was cowed by pressure from a former PBS board member, the incredibly wealthy philanthropist David Koch.

The story Mayer tells starts with last fall's airing of Alex Gibney's film "Park Avenue: Money, Power & The American Dream," which implicates many of the so-called 1% who buy political influence.  Much of Gibney's film centers on the inhabitants of 740 Park Avenue, including one of the country's richest businesspeople, Koch.

Koch has recently gained notoriety for funding many of the super PAC's that have been greatly affecting American politics in recent years.  He is also a primary focus in Sundance 2013 film, "Citizen Koch," from "Trouble the Water" filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal.

That film, it turns out, had a deal to receive funding from ITVS, the San Francisco-based funder whose work often end up on PBS.  After the screening of "Park Avenue" caused a kerfuffle at New York's PBS affiliate WNET, Lessin and Deal were told that they would no longer be getting funding from ITVS for their film.

The statements from ITVS and the "Citizen Koch" filmmakers (who'd originally titled their project "Citizen Corp" when applying for funding) end Mayer's piece:

ITVS officials ascribe their decision to growing editorial differences. They issued a prepared statement: "ITVS commenced negotiations to fund the film 'Citizen Corp' based on a written proposal. Early cuts of the film did not reflect the proposal, however, and ITVS ceased negotiations."

Lessin and Deal said that this is untrue. Although they had changed the title, they said, in a joint statement, "The film we made is identical in premise and execution to the written and video proposals that ITVS green-lit last spring. ITVS backed out of the partnership because they came to fear the reaction our film would provoke. David Koch, whose political activities are featured in the film, happens to be a public-television funder and a trustee of both WNET and WGBH. This wasn't a failed negotiation or a divergence of visions; it was censorship, pure and simple." The filmmakers consider this an ironic turn: "It's the very thing our film is about -- public servants bowing to pressures, direct or indirect, from high-dollar donors."

Mayer's piece is a fascinating read, an example of how (as Michael Moore reminds us in the piece) major power players can often have a chilling effect on the truth-finding missions of documentarians.  Read it here, and let us know what you think below.

This article is related to: Television, TV News, Park Avenue: Money, Power & The American Dream, Citizen Koch, PBS, ITVS, Alex Gibney





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