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April 9, 2005

Journalism film festival begins

by Grace Harter, Page Editor
American University held the first event of its second annual REEL Journalism Film Festival on Friday night. The university will continue to show a series of journalism films and conduct discussions throughout the weekend.

The film "The Insider" was shown at American University's Greenberg Theatre. The film was based on the real life of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, who attended a discussion session following the screening. The discussion, which was moderated by ABC reporter Pierre Thomas, allowed audience members to question Wigand. Wigand went head to head with American tobacco companies in the mid-90s when he alerted the public to their disregard for public safety and the addictive power of nicotine. The film focuses on the efforts of producer Lowell Bergman to put Wigand's shocking interview on his show "60 Minutes" against the wishes of his bosses.

The film, which stars Al Pacino as Bergman and Russell Crowe as Wigand, still seems very surreal to Wigand. "It's not, for me, entertainment," he said. "It brings back uncomfortable memories." Wigand talked of how Crowe was able to pick up his mannerisms very quickly through their short meeting together and was pleased with the accuracy of the film.

Wigand battled the tobacco companies at great personal cost. His family received death threats which he believes were from his former company, Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation. His wife also divorced him during the ordeal, and he was under great strain to let the public know the truth while trying to save his family from the wrath of tobacco companies.

"What do you do with what you know?" Wigand asked. "I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do." Wigand had taken a job at Brown and Williamson as a scientist to try to create a safer cigarette. At the time, cigarette companies were toying with the idea of a fire-safe cigarette and even had the capability of creating such a product.

Inevitably, said Wigand, tobacco companies decided against making the cigarette because they felt they weren't compelled to do so. "It was like Hamlet," said Wigand. "To burn or not to burn."

Five films will be shown on Saturday and four films will be shown on Sunday for the festival. Most of the films on Saturday and Sunday will be followed by discussions hosted by prominent filmmakers, writers and journalists. The movies will be shown in the Wechsler and Greenberg Theatres on American University's campus.

For more information regarding film times, buying tickets and directions, visit American University's REEL Journalism Film Festival web site.

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  • metro sucks on April 9, 2005 at 12:11 PM
    I would have gone to this. But alas, Tenleytown-AU is on the other side of the red line.
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