City Promotes Film While Fighting the Film's Makers in Court

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The city is paying for subway ads and posters in bus shelters to promote the Ken Burns film "The Central Park Five" as part of a "Made in NY" marketing campaign intended to promote local productions. Meanwhile, the city's Law Department is pursuing a legal case to obtain raw footage from the film as part of a legal defense. 

Just four months ago, New York City subpoenaed the makers of the documentary “The Central Park Five” for raw footage of interviews with the original suspects in the Central Park Jogger case.

Now, city money is paying for advertisements for the film in the subway and elsewhere as part of its “Made in NY” marketing campaign.

In other words, the city is helping to promote a film while at the same time fighting the film’s makers in court.

A spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Marybeth Ihle, says that the advertising is intended to promote local products.

“As part of the official rules of the program, we remain content neutral as to the subject of the films,” she said in an email.

The “Made in NY” marketing campaign helps to publicize films and TV shows where at least 75 percent of the production was made in the city. Ihle said the cost of promoting "Central Park Five" was not immediately available. But a film with the budget of its size qualifies for 250 subway cards, 20 bus placards, and public service announcements in the back of 13,000 taxi cabs, according to the office's website.

The film relates the story of how five young black men were wrongly arrested and imprisoned for assault and rape, later to be exonerated when DNA evidence and a confession led to another suspect. The city had subpoenaed for raw footage of interviews with the men, as part of its defense against a $250 million lawsuit filed by the men. Ken Burns, his daughter, Sarah Burns, who helped direct the film, and her husband, David McMahon, are fighting the subpoena, saying that the footage is protected by journalist’s privilege.

The city’s Law Department contends that the outtakes from the film go “to the heart of the case and cannot be found elsewhere.”

A judge's decision on whether the filmmakers must provide the outtakes is expected mid-February.