New York City Subpoenas Outtakes Of Ken Burns' The Central Park Five After Stonewalling Filmmaker

'The Central Park Five' -- outtakes subpoenaed by city of New York

New York City officials weren't exactly helpful when Ken Burns and his daughter were making a documentary about the racially charged 1989 Central Park jogger case, but now they're hoping the finished film, The Central Park Five, will be useful to them.

The film, which got a special screening in New York on Tuesday night, explores the lives of the five men who were convicted and later cleared in the case which became a symbol of racial tension in a metropolis besieged by crime. (The terms "wolf pack" and "wilding" were added to the media's lexicon of fear-inducing terms as a result of the case.)  The documentary, which was shown at the Cannes, Telluride and Toronto film festivals,  scrutinizes the initial convictions of the Central Park Five, noting, for instance that the five men did not appear to be in the area of the park where the rape occurred, that their DNA was not found on the victim and that their confessions did not jibe with one another's.

Despite the movie's perspective, the  New York Times reported  that lawyers for the city of New York have subpoenaed notes and outtakes from the documentary, which Burns directed with his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon, in order to determine whether the material can help them fight a federal civil rights lawsuit that five men filed nine years ago as a result of their experience. They are each seeking $50 million.

In 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the incident, their lawyer Jonathan Moore called that experience "the most racist prosecution that occurred in the City of New York."

Ken Burns told the Times that the Sept. 12 subpoena came after the city had spent years declining the filmmakers' requests for interviews to explain the actions taken by law-enforcement officials involved in the case.

“There is a great deal of disappointment that it came to this, given the fact that we had given so many of the factions in this complicated story many, many opportunities, on a regular basis, to comment,” Burns said.

The city insists that cops and prosecutors acted appropriate given the information that they had available to them then.. “We believe that based on the information that the police and prosecutors had at the time, they had probable cause to proceed, and the confessions were sound,”  a city spokeswoman told the Times.  [New York Times]

UPDATE:  Sarah Burns calls city's allegations that The Central Park Five is advocacy "outrageous." 

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