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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mass Media leads and misleads often do deep harm

HOT COFFEE premieres tomorrow night
Editing, re-reporting, brief comment by Carolyn Bennett

I don’t watch television but this documentary seems a must-see for people who watch television or who might ferret out a copy for home viewing.

HOT COFFEE reveals what really happened to Stella Liebeck, the Albuquerque woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued. The documentary explores “how and why the case garnered so much media attention, who funded the effort and to what end. After seeing this film, [the audience] will decide who really profited from spilling hot coffee.”

Stella Liebeck (age 79) suffered severe third-degree burns, years of expensive medical treatment, and a lawsuit that soon had the whole country — spreading false information and commentary.

“Seinfeld mocked [her]. Late-night comic Letterman ranked [the incident] in his top ten list.” Its infamy has seemed unstoppable. “Everyone knows the McDonald’s coffee case… routinely cited as an example of how citizens have taken advantage of America’s legal system; but have the facts been fairly rendered?”

Liebeck was a passenger not a driver in a parked not a moving car. She had ordered a cup of coffee from a McDonald’s restaurant drive-through window in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She proceeded to add cream and sugar to her coffee, spilled the entire cup of scalding hot coffee on her lap and suffered third-degree burns.

In HOT COFFEE, Stella Liebeck’s personal legal battle over a spilled cup of coffee serves as a springboard into understanding our civil justice system.

Also among the documentary’s cast

Jamie Leigh Jones — sexually assaulted (raped) by her co-workers when working in Iraq as a private contractor for KBR/Halliburton. When criminal charges could not be filed, she sought to hold Halliburton accountable for their misconduct, but a forced arbitration clause buried in her employment agreement meant she lost her right to a jury trial. While documenting Jamie Leigh Jones’s story, the film follows Senator Al Franken’s first bill, prohibiting in government contracts mandatory arbitration clauses for sexual assault, passed in the U.S. Senate.

The film shows the success of the ‘tort reform movement’ and its impact on average people in the form of mandatory arbitration contracts.

Colin Gourley — born with cerebral palsy because of medical malpractice at birth who received a $5.65 million award at trial to cover his medical expenses but, because of a Nebraska state-mandated cap on damages, he could only collect $1.25 million, an amount that will not cover a lifetime of care. The film shows how the lawsuit cap has affected Colin Gourley and his family, as well as how dramatically different his life is compared to that of his identical twin brother, Connor.

When state Supreme Courts were holding caps on damages unconstitutional, Karl Rove and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce masterminded a national campaign to unseat judges who stood in the way of ‘tort reform.’

[Tort: a wrongful act other than a breach of contract for which relief may be obtained in the form of damages or an injunction] 

Oliver Diaz — a former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice big business interests, despite their millions spent in advertising, could not beat in his re-election to the Mississippi Supreme Court “found a way to have him criminally prosecuted on false charges, tainting his reputation and causing political hardship for years to come.” Diaz’s life was fictionalized in John Grisham’s book, The Appeal.


SUSAN SALADOFF (Producer, Director) spent twenty-five years practicing law in the civil justice system, representing injured victims of individual and corporate negligence. She stopped practicing law in 2009 to make the documentary HOT COFFEE, her first feature-length film. Susan Saladoff lectures often and widely on the importance of the civil justice system.

CINDY LEE (Editor) has feature editing credits to include No End In Sight (Oscar nominee 2007, New York Film Critics Circle 2007 Best Documentary, Sundance Special Jury Prize 2006), Hotel Gramercy Park (Tribeca Film Festival 2008), and Manhattan, Kansas (SXSW Film Festival 2006).

CARLY HUGO (Producer) is a founding partner of The Group Entertainment, an NYC film production and talent management company; and producer of Beautiful Darling (Berlin & ND/NF ’10), Beware the Gonzo (Tribeca ’10), Peter and Vandy (Sundance ’09), Bass Ackwards (Sundance ’10), and Loggerheads (Sundance ’05).

ALAN OXMAN (Producer) is winner of two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Documentary Editing on the PBS series ‘City Life’; co-producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary film Children Underground and co-producer and supervising editor of the Al-Jazeera documentary Control Room (Grand Jury Prize, Full Frame Film Festival).

MARTINA RADWAN (Director of Photography) recently completed the documentaries William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (premiered at Sundance 2009, was picked up by Arthouse Films for a mid-2009 theatrical release); and documentary projects including Through a Lens Darkly (director Thomas Allan Harris) and Poetry of Resilience and Skywalkers (Nomine Katja Esson).

MICHAEL MOLLURA (Composer, musical score featuring piano, orchestral, guitar, electronica, clarinet and cello solos) scored the “haunting” for the feature film Climate Refugees (premiered at 2010 Sundance Film Festival). His recent work also includes a feature length score for the drama Reconciliation (2010).

BRIAN OAKES (Motion Graphics Designer) designed the graphic visuals for the film Wordplay (2006 documentary) and will have two other documentary films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this year: HBO’s Bobby Fischer Against The World and These Amazing Shadows (Gravitas Films).

ERIN CRUMPACKER (Associate Producer) is a TV and documentary film producer based in New York City.

BETSY RATE (Associate Producer) is a freelance TV news and documentary producer based in New York City.

PRUDENCE ARNDT (Archive Producer) with more than 25 years as visual media researcher and documentary producer found archival film and photos on award-winning films and TV shows: I Knew It Was You: Remembering John Cazale (HBO); Why We Fight (BBC/Charlotte Films); Still Bill; African-American Lives Series 1; Looking For Answers; Bigger, Stronger, Faster: The Side Effects of Being American; Inside Deep Throat (HBO); and The Endurance (White Mountain Films/Nova)

RENIQUA ALLEN (Archive Producer) is a journalist based in the New York City area who produces Make It Plain on Sirius XM Radio and has written and produced for several media outlets including Congressional Quarterly, Black Enterprise, PBS.

REBECCA SALADOFF (Co-Producer, Assistant Editor) was production intern on ‘East Fifth Bliss’; a key intern leading up to and during the 2010 Independent Feature Project (IFP) Film Week; operations intern at the largest outdoor summer-long music festival in Southern Oregon Britt Music Festival (Jacksonville, OR).

HOT COFFEE premieres on HBO Monday June 27 as part of the Summer Documentary Series

Sources and notes

“Is Justice Being Served?” http://hotcoffeethemovie.com/

 “Full Frame Comes Full Circle: Doc Fest Reconnects with Duke University
Online Articles” (Ron Sutton), May 2011, http://www.documentary.org/magazine/full-frame-comes-full-circle-doc-fest-reconnects-duke-university

This week on CounterSpin — “Susan Saladoff on Hot Coffee, Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky on Battle for Brooklyn,” June 24-30, 2011), http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=4325

Tort \'tȯrt\ n (1586): a wrongful act other than a breach of contract for which relief may be obtained in the form of damages or an injunction 

Karl Christian Rove (b.1950 in Denver, Colorado) is an American political consultant and principal architect of U.S. President George W. Bush’s two presidential election campaigns (2000, 2004).


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