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Library Cancels Screening Of 'Sicko' Under Pressure From Council, Mayor
In less than 24 hours, what started as a resident’s complaint during Tuesday’s council meeting about the library’s upcoming showing of the film has drawn the attention of state civil liberties and library groups that could lead to legal action against the town.
The screening of “Sicko,” Moore’s 2007 Academy Award-nominated documentary that critiqued the American health care system, was to have been part of the library’s new nonfiction film series.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, resident Kevin Fealy brought the upcoming screening to the council’s attention, urging it to pressure the library to cancel the movie, saying he didn’t want the town “to promote material such as this on my tax dollars.”
After several council members objected to the screening, Mayor Scott R. Kaupin, a Republican, asked Town Manager Matthew W. Coppler to talk to the library’s director, Henry Dutcher, about canceling the film.
“The sentiment by the majority is that it’s a poor choice and that they should definitely reconsider,” Kaupin said. “And if they don’t reconsider, then they’re going to have the repercussions of the council.
“I mean, in the end, when budget time comes and Mr. Dutcher is asking for funding” for the films, Kaupin said, “he’s going to have to answer for it.”
Dutcher said he was directed by the town manager, who is Dutcher’s supervisor, to cancel the film. When asked if he thought he would be fired if he failed to do so, Dutcher said, “I don’t know for sure.”
Coppler did not return several calls to his office for comment.
Dutcher said he could not think of any other occasion when the council intervened in the library’s programming and had a film pulled.
Councilwoman Cynthia Mangini, a Democrat, was the only council member to speak against the move, calling it censorship and a violation of First Amendment rights.
She said canceling the movie would be like banning books.
Councilman Patrick Crowley, also a Democrat, said he didn’t think the effort to cancel the screening amounted to censorship, saying the library should be age-appropriate for young children.
“We want it to be a place for relaxation and fun for the kids,” Crowley said.
Dutcher said the film series was never intended for children.
“We wouldn’t put a series at one o’clock on Fridays during school if it was intended for children,” Dutcher added.
Debbie Herman, president of the Connecticut Library Association, said public libraries should be “a pillar of our American democracy and that democracy depends on an informed citizenry.
“People should be able to go to their public library to read or view a wide variety of books and films about controversial topics and then make up their minds,” Herman said. “Censoring the choices that people have or silencing the opposition is an insult to our form of government. The public library is supposed to be a battleground for ideas.”
Peter Chase, chairman of the association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, called the council’s actions “absolutely deplorable.”
“The health care debate in America is exactly the kind of controversial issue that people need information on, and this is exactly what the public library should be doing,” Chase said. “Can you imagine what would happen to state libraries if individual town governments could just withdraw the materials they didn’t like?”
Herman said the association is weighing its options — which could include some form of legal action.
Andrew Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said “a free society like ours suffers when government officials like the mayor take this type of action.
“The government should never take action that limits the public’s access to information or ideas,” Schneider said.
Dutcher said the Moore film was the second in an occasional series of nonfiction films chosen by his staff featuring subject matter ranging from health care to education and the environment. The first film, A PBS “Frontline” documentary about health care called “Sick Around the World,” was screened on Jan. 7.
Upcoming films in the series include “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore’s film about climate change, and “Trouble the Waters,” a documentary about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Kaupin said the library should steer clear of controversial material like “Sicko.”
“I don’t even know why people make these decisions to go down those paths. It’s stupid. It’s like, it just blows my mind that people try to push the envelope with the public dime,” Kaupin said. “Do nice stuff. Do uncontroversial, or if you want to step in the mode of being controversial, make sure it’s fair on both sides and it becomes a discussion.”
“And it’s not a ‘fun flick,’” he said, referring to the name of the library’s film series. “A fun flick to me would be ‘Finding Nemo.’”
Resident Dominic Alaimo, who is also chairman of the Thompsonville Board of Fire Commissioners, said at Tuesday’s meeting that canceling the screening is not censorship because the film is “available anywhere you want.”
“Censorship does not start from the bottom and work up. Censorship starts in like Red China, Russia,” Alaimo said. “Everywhere you go, they stop something right from coming into the country.
“This is not a place for kids to watch this kind of stuff when you have somebody who thinks Fidel Castro is a great guy, he thinks all these other people who are suppressive in other countries — this is what this guy is all about,” Alaimo said of Moore.
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