Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 24, 2014

Controversial Obama movie at Best Western

By DONNA SCHILL CLEVELAND, Ledger staff writer | Oct 25, 2012

Contention over a controversial political film continues as community members raise another roadblock to its screening at The Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.

“Dreams from My Real Father,” a film asserting Obama’s father to be Frank Marshall Davis, an alleged Communist will now be held at the Best Western Fairfield Inn, with a showing at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

The film, considered widely to express extreme and inaccurate allegations about the president, has nevertheless raised questions about free political speech and censorship.

After the convention center board settled on allowing the screening last week following days caught in the crossfire, local grocer, Everybody’s Whole Foods, which owns the projector equipment used at the center pulled its rental agreement for the screening.

For Joseph S. Perna, a Fairfield resident and the driving force behind the screening, this was a signal to show the movie elsewhere, despite an offer from the convention center to use its lower-end projector.

“The setup at the Best Western will be better for us,” said Perna. “This is too much on everybody, we get the message.”

When Perna, a self-proclaimed “Tea Party kind of guy” first saw “Dreams from My Real Father,” a month ago, he became obsessed with showing it to a wider audience.

“A friend of mine brought it over one night, and we looked at it, and thought, this thing has to go on the big screen,” he said.

Perna booked the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts for Oct. 12 and rented the high-definition projector and screen from Everybody’s Whole Foods, the local grocer owning the equipment. He personally financed the screening though he said friends in an informal group of Tea Party advocates in town helped organize the event.

He said his desire to share the film comes from his “love of country, and concern for what’s true and what’s right.”

Perna is aware the film holds controversial views, but said he wants people to watch it and decide for themselves.

“People might not like it or agree, they might think it’s a bunch of filth,” he said. “But people have a right to know, it’s part of our first amendment rights.”

Shortly after watching the film, he contacted the film’s director, Joel Gilbert.

“I contacted him directly, and he replied much to my pleasant surprise,” he said.

Perna interviewed Gilbert on his KRUU-FM radio series, the “Salavatorio Show,” and soon the director booked a hotel and plane ticket to Fairfield for an appearance at the Oct. 12 screening.

But days before the screening, the convention center canceled the event due to a public backlash.

The convention center received many complaints, and even threats of legal action against the nonprofit status of the center. The board canceled the screening for a legal review of Internal Revenue Service requirements for nonprofits.

Chairman of the board Rob Steinberg held a meeting Oct. 16, in which the board voted in favor of allowing the film. Although the IRS does in fact prohibit organizations from participating in political speech, they concluded by maintaining neutrality and equal opportunity to renters, the center could legally rent the space.

The board clarified it would not promote the film in any way, and asked Perna to provide a disclaimer disassociating the center from the film’s content. Though Perna agreed to the new terms, it was too late for Gilbert’s appearance.

“He had made all his arrangements,” said Perna. “It was kind of a let down.”

The second cancellation occurred when a promotional effort by Gilbert backfired. His production company, Highway 61 Entertainment, sent out a blast of free DVD’s of the film to the doorstep of homes in Fairfield.

When Paul Praither, co-owner of Everybody’s Whole Foods received and watched the film, he immediately decided to pull the rental arrangement he’d made with Perna.

“The DVD was really negative, not to mention untrue,” he said. “Since the equipment was going to be used for that, I said ‘no way.’”

Praither said Everybody’s purchased the equipment in 2009 for a production of “Hair,” put on by Way Off Broadway, a theater group the store supports. Since then, Praither donates proceeds from projector rental fees to the production group.

Perna said he’s not overly surprised by Fairfield’s reaction to “Dreams from My Real Father.”

“It’s a hot button issue, I can understand the reaction,” he said. “Nonetheless we’re talking about principles.”

 

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