May 20, 2006
"The Big Buy" premiere in Houston

Tiffany and I attended the fundraiser/Houston premiere for The Big Buy last night. This was the first time she had seen the movie - I of course saw an earlier version that was released just prior to DeLay's indictment in Travis County. That movie ended before those indictments were handed down; this one includes all that, plus much of the fallout from it, up to and including DeLay's resignation announcement. It was also done in more of a noir/crime story style, with DeLay being mostly a presence in the background, with the main characters being Ronnie Earle, the players who were involved in the TRMPAC/TAB business, and a host of commentators.

This one is about Tom DeLay. It still includes much of the original film footage of Earle and the TRMPAC/TAB gang, but the focus is squarely on The Hammer now. It's more pointed in its perspective, and as a montage at the end on DeLay acolytes John Boehner, Roy Blunt, Bob Ney, and John Doolittle attest, it ties the business in Texas more closely to the national Republican Party, its control on Congress, and its scandals. A segment in which Jim Hightower talks about bills that passed by fewer than the five votes the 2003 redistricting gained the GOP was an effective way of emphasizing that.

A list of the people who are in the movie is here. The addition of Bev Carter and Jacqueline Blankenship was a bonus and a treat. They open the movie now, being filmed as they drive around Fort Bend County and talk about DeLay and the local GOP. In the Q&A session after the screening, filmmaker Mark Birnbaum said that guys like them can shoot a lot of footage before they get a moment that makes them go "YES! That's so in the movie!" He said it took about five minutes with Bev and Jackie to get one of those moments.

(Bev was in attendance last night. I had a nice chat with her before the showing. She hadn't seen the movie yet and wasn't even sure she was still in it. Any doubts she may have had were settled quickly, that's for sure.)

Future screenings of the movie are here. Media coverage of the event are in the Houston Press, the Chron, and the Galveston Daily News. Couple of points of interest here, first from the GalvNews:

DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said, while the outgoing congressman doesn't much like how he is portrayed in the movie, certain scenes might become part of his defense against state charges of money laundering brought by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle.

DeLay's attorney Dick DeGuerin confirmed that there is a good chance the film will play a role in the congressman's defense.

"We are going to use part of that film to prove (Earle) was lying to the public when he was telling the lawyers for Tom DeLay that Tom DeLay was not a target," DeGuerin said Friday.

Much of the film - which had its Houston premiere Friday - follows Earle. Those scenes, said Flaherty, not only show Earle was a politically motivated partisan, but that the Democratic district attorney lied to lawyers representing DeLay.

Flaherty said the congressman, who announced he would resign from office June 9, was told by Earle's office repeatedly that he was not the subject of a criminal investigation. Flaherty maintains that Earle was obligated to inform DeLay he was a subject of the investigation.

DeGuerin said the film possess some ethical problems for Earle.

"Lawyers are not supposed to misrepresent the truth and clearly he was misrepresenting what the facts were about," said DeGuerin.

I'm not sure what they're talking about here. I don't recall anything in the movie prior to DeLay's indictment where Earle clearly - or even obliquely - indicates that DeLay was being targeted. There's some footage from a press conference, done after the TRMPAC indictments were handed down, in which a reporter asks if DeLay was next on the indictment list. Earle gave a statement that anyone who committed a crime was a target. Perhaps there's something that I can't tell from the movie but that a DeLay attorney might. Obviously, I have no way of knowing that.

One thing that the Press story notes is that DeLay's attorneys aren't the only ones with a keen interest in the film:

Last October, attorneys for James Ellis, one of three DeLay aides indicted in September 2004 by an Austin grand jury, filed a motion to dismiss the indictment claiming "outrageous government conduct," in part because of Earle's zealousness and transparency with Birnbaum and Schermbeck. Ellis's attorneys also want some 100 hours' worth of unused video shot by the two -- and they're more than happy to turn it over, should it come to that.

Actually, Birnbaum said after the screening that they've retained counsel in Austin, and will turn footage over to the judge to decide what the defense gets to see, if it comes to that. Birnbaum and partner Jim Schermbeck also said that they and the movie take up about two pages of a thirty-page complaint filed by Team DeLay against Earle. They didn't seem too concerned about it, but they did note that since DeLay himself was indicted, Earle has not spoken to them at all. Now that DeLay has been formally charged with a crime, the situation is different.

One other thing from the Press story, since Pink Lady wanted to know when the Austin premiere would be:

As it is, the movie will not screen in Austin before DeLay goes to trial in the near, or distant, future -- if he ever stands trial at all. The filmmakers worry it will taint the potential jury pool; Earle likely shares their fears, though he will not comment on the movie till after any and all legal proceedings are complete.

I can bring my DVD with me to the Bloggers Caucus if y'all want me to. Someone else will have to supply the player and the television, though.

Overall, despite some audio problems with the projection, I enjoyed the new version of the movie, as did Tiffany. I think this will serve as a good single source for anyone who doesn't know what all the fuss is about. Schermbeck and Birnbaum said they wanted to make a movie that people outside Texas, who wouldn't know the local players, would be able to follow. One attendee piped up at the end of the Q&A to say she was from Michigan and had no trouble with that.

Other points of interest from the reception and the Q&A session:

- Schermbeck confirmed for me that the new subtitle "Tom DeLay's Stolen Congress" was added at the behest of the distributor. He also told me that Jim Turner, the attorney for John Colyandro whom I thought was impressive, is Willie Nelson's attorney, too. Trial lawyers do lead interesting lives in this state.

- Though the film made mention of DeLay's presence in Austin during the redistricting battle of 2003, there was no footage of him there. Someone asked why this was so. According to Schermbeck, there were two TV stations that had film of DeLay in the Capitol - WFAA in Dallas, and News 8 Austin. Neither would release their video to Schermbeck and Birnbaum - News 8 Austin told them this was still an ongoing story, and that they may have to do a piece on the filmmakers themselves, so no dice.

- Chris Bell made one appearance in the movie, and got a round of spontaneous applause when it happened.

- I asked a question during the session about the demand by defense attorneys for their extra footage. After answering it, Schermbeck (who had originally emailed me last year about the movie and sent me the screener DVD that I reviewed back then) said some nice things about me and this blog to the audience, which I definitely appreciated. He said he found and contacted Bev Carter after reading about her here.

- Finally, according to Franklin Foer, things are a bit lean on K Street these days. He's still in Congress, but it sounds like we've already entered the post-DeLay world. Link via Ezra.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 20, 2006 to Scandalized! | TrackBack