Apple, the company that introduced its Macintosh computer with a “1984” TV commercial warning of an Orewllian world of group-think, was being accused Monday of censoring a documentary filmmaker who asked an inconvenient question during an event starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski.
The actors were at an Apple store in Soho on Dec. 3 to promote Promised Land, the film opening Jan. 4 that is co-written by the two co-stars. The movie features Damon as a salesman for a natural gas company while Krasinski's character warns of environmental degradation associated with hydraulic “fracking.”
When event host Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine asked for questions from the audience, conservative filmmaker Phelim McAleer was called on first. Judging from an audio podcast posted at iTunes, McAleer asked the only unfriendly question of the evening, though you wouldn't know about it because it is not included in the podcast.
But McAleer says he has proof of Apple’s alleged censorship because, against Apple’s rules, he surreptitiously videotaped the entire event.
McAleer, who made Not Evil Just Wrong about what he sees as hype surrounding the issue of global warming, is near finishing his next documentary, called FrackNation, which seeks to dismantle claims that fracking, a technology for squeezing petroleum and natural gas from rock formations, is harmful to the environment. Thus is his interest in Promised Land.
“It has emerged recently,” McAleer said at the event with Damon and Krasinski, “that the script -- or that the funding for Promised Land -- came from a Middle Eastern oil nation.”
When Damon and Krasinski smile, McAleer says: “which you seem to find funny.”
“We hear a lot of criticism about sources of right-wing funding and right-wing projects,” McAleer continues, "my question is, how does it feel to be a fully paid advocate for an oil-rich Middle Eastern government?”
The premise for McAleer’s question can be seen in the film’s credits, which list Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ as a production company alongside Focus Features, Participant Media and Pearl Street Films. Nearly four years ago, Participant Media, which has stated its goal to be making “socially relevant films,” took Imagenation as a partner in a $250 million fund to produce 18 movies, one of which is Promised Land. McAleer told Damon and Krasinski that the Abu Dhabi government, and by extension, Imagenation, “stands to make billions of dollars if fracking is banned in the United States," given that the city's economy and wealth is dependent on its oil exports.
See the video below.
“Is this part of the documentary?” Damon asks McAleer, who had introduced himself with a quick description of FrackNation. Damon's question elicited laughter from Krasinski and among some of the 400 attendees.
“We got funded by Focus Features and Participant,” Damon continued. “Participant Media has a blind slate deal with these people, Imagenation, who pay for like 10 percent of all of their films. So, the first time we were aware that Imagenation was involved with our movie was when we saw the rough cut and saw their logo. And that’s, that.”
McAleer says when he compares his video of the event to the podcast that Apple released, it appears the only portion missing is his question and Damon's answer. The event was organized by Focus Features and Apple, and people familiar with the situation say Focus did not ask Apple to remove any portion of the event for the podcast. Apple and Imagenation didn't respond to requests for comment.
“When the guy asks for questions from the audience and then calls, “front row, middle,’ it’s me he’s talking about,” McAleer told The Hollywood Reporter. “Then in the podcast, they just airbrush me out, like Stalin used to do. It’s a very un-Apple thing to do, considering their famous 1984 TV commercial.”
In the podcast, an Apple representative is indeed heard saying, "right here in the front, in the middle," but the question from McAleer has allegedly been cleanly removed so that the second question from someone else in the audience appears to be the first question asked. The exchange is heard at the 23-minute mark of the podcast.
Earlier in the evening, Travers broached the topic of politics when he asked if Promised Land was based on a "liberal, lefty Hollywood premise."
Krasinski answered with a story about he and Damon first broaching the topic of fracking while writing the script.
"Matt said to me, 'listen, I've been down this road before and this just became the anti-fracking movie for the people who want to believe that. It just happened. So, it's over now and no matter what we do, that's what people are going to think before they go see the movie, if that's what they want to think, and there's nothing we can do about it,'" Krasinski recalled. "And we never spoke about it again, and I thought that that was pretty cool. And, you know, again, our whole story is about the people and what their decision is. It's not, you know, wildly liberal or one-sided, in my estimation."
Participant Media emailed the following statement to THR:
"Promised Land is one of the nine films to date co-financed by the Participant Media-Imagenation film financing fund established in January 2009 (along with The Crazies, Furry Vengeance, Fair Game, The Beaver, The Help, Contagion, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Snitch). The Participant Media-Imagenation film financing fund is a slate-based investment vehicle that covers all qualifying Participant narrative films regardless of genre or subject matter."