Community Cinema Screens COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS with Filmmaker Kembrew McLeod

Posted on October 26, 2009

This month Community Cinema is screening the Independent Lens film COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS, which examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling, including the related debates over artistic expression, copyright law, and (of course) money. Find out what happened at recent screenings in Kansas City, MO, and Iowa City from filmmaker Kembrew Mcleod.

It’s been a busy time for me. In the past three days I attended two screenings of COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS in two Midwestern towns: Kansas City and Iowa City. Lots of miles covered, and a ton of great questions from viewers. It made me wish I were able to attend each and every one of the 50+ Community Cinema screenings of COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS across the country during October. However, that would have been an insane (and impossible) journey, because several times the film was playing in two or more cities on the same night. I feel honored to be part of the Community Cinema program, which has allowed COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS to be seen far and wide by a diverse range of audiences. Plus, it’s free. Who doesn’t like free? 

The really cool thing about the recent screenings I attended was that they took place in “real” theaters—Tivoli Cinemas, in Kansas City, and Iowa City’s Bijou Theater. I’m used to seeing my films in all sorts of nontraditional venues, but there’s nothing like seeing your documentary on a nice, big screen and in a room with a great sound system. Sound quality is important, especially for a film about music, after all. Whenever I show COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS, I like to sit in the back of the audience because it’s fun to watch everyone’s heads nod to the rhythm of the film’s soundtrack. The cool thing about music is the sometimes-unconscious reaction it provokes in people; my bet is that most of the folks don’t even know they’re even moving in their seats. The music just takes them over. 

The other thing I like about attending my own screenings is talking to an engaged audience. The Q&A sessions in Kansas City and Iowa City were no exception, though I’ll focus on the latter screening, because it’s freshest in my mind. Given the nature of the film, there were more than a few questions about copyright law. For instance, “Did copyright law impact the making of your film?” (Short answer? YES!)

I try to stay away from technical legal talk, but I often find myself having to provide a small-scale intellectual property law primer, especially when discussing topics like fair use (a legal doctrine that allows you to quote from copyrighted materials without permission, for the purposes of education, critical commentary, and other transformative uses). Fortunately, because the Bijou is located on a college campus—the University of Iowa—a lot of people already knew what fair use was, so I didn’t have to go into full-on teaching mode. 

Another thing I like is getting combative questions from audience members who are totally offended by the idea of sampling, remix culture, and the notion that people want to “steal” from other people’s creations. Benjamin Franzen and I have had our share of irate questions, especially at the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival—something that makes life more interesting. Sadly, nothing like this happened in Iowa City, where the people tend to be nice and polite. It’s Iowa, after all. 

- Kembrew McLeod Filmmaker, COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS


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