The Disputed Price of Sugar

On January 2nd, I wrote my usual preliminary post for the Dinner and a Doc that was upcoming on the 9th of the month.  I indicated that we would be watching The Price of Sugar by Bill Haney, a film that explores the working conditions of Haitians who have illegally immigrated to cut sugar cane on plantations in the Dominican Republic.  It focuses specifically on the work of Father Christopher Hartley to improve the conditions on the plantations in what is now his former parish, plantations that are largely owned by the Vicini family.

On January 4th, several days before the screening, I received an email from the Washington legal firm of Patton Boggs, which is representing the Vicini family.  The email expressed dismay at my decision to show the film and included a forty-five page copy of the legal injunction that the firm has submitted to the courts, outlining the various respects in which the Vicini family feels that the film has misrepresented them and their interests.

On January 9th, I showed the film anyway.

Today, on January 14th, I am now posting the email that was sent to me by Patton Boggs along with the message that I do not intend to be bullied, now or ever, about the films that I decide to screen in the privacy of my own home, and let us be clear: the act of sending forty-odd pages of legal injunction is nothing more than mere bullying.

It has no legal function, since a defamation suit against the filmmaker has no bearing whatsoever on my right to watch the film in my own home.

Neither does it serve to correct misinformation.  Forty-odd pages of legal injunction will never be read by anyone, and any real intent to be corrective would have been much better served by a two or three page summary of the Vicinis’ objections.

It certainly does not provide proof of anything.  That the Vicinis object to their portrayal in the film and have filed a defamation suit proves absolutely nothing, in either direction, and even should the judge rule in their favour, I would still have some reservations about the ability of The District Court of Massachusetts to arrive at an informed judgment on a case whose material evidence lies mostly in a foreign state under the control of one of the interested parties.

The only thing that sending this legal document does  is attempt to intimidate people out of watching and showing and addressing the film for themselves.  The only thing it does is try to convince people that they should censure themselves at the discretion of those with the money to retain large legal firms that will send impressive looking swathes of legal material to anyone who shows up on a google alert.

I will not be so intimidated, and neither should you.  Inform yourself of both perspectives on the question, by all means.  Just do not let yourself be intimidated into letting the question drop.  In fact, I suggest that you go and rent the film this weekend, or even better, you can always borrow it from me.

For those who are interested in further persepctives on this dispute, there have been some interesting articles posted by  The World Socialist Web Site, by The Boston Globe, and by the National Catholic Reporter.

  1. Well, Luke, I guess you have gotten a little taste of just how powerful your little projector player and speakers are. I think you should email them a copy of the menu and the recipe for the soup we had that Saturday night, along with a little thank you for how well they have incited all of us to realise the true and necessary effect of the content we are exposed to by documentaries. You should thank them for making us indirectly involved in the issue and reenforcing the conviction of its relevance.

  2. Curtis,

    Yes, I wonder whether opposing a film in this way ever does anything but give it more publicity and radicalize its viewers further.

  3. Matthew Harrison said:

    How did they find out you were screening it? I enjoy exciting little adventures like this that come out of nowhere and involve us!

    Have you seen anything about this movie?

  4. Lauren said:

    Good for you, Luke! Stick it to the man.

    I had to laugh, though, at their continued reference to the movie as “POS” in the document. I know that is par for the course in legal documents, and I will admit it IS the most obvious choice given the title of the film, but still, funny that they had the good fortune to be representing a movie with a title so easily shortened to an acronym with such negative connotations.

  5. Matthew,

    I am not certain how they discovered my post, but it would be a simple thing to do. A google alert would let them know when anyone posted anything on the net having to do with the case.

    And no, I have not seen Home, but I will look into it when I get a chance.


    I like the double meaning there: both “piece of shit” and “parent over shoulder”. The irony is fabulous.

  6. Isaiah said:

    It seems to be just another embarrassing thing that family does: legally harass normal citizens who watch this documentary.

    Even if the film did not convince you of the right-ness of what Christopher Hartley was doing this display of paranoid idiocy from the family’s legal firm that represents them enforces the films perspective.

  7. Sharon said:

    Hi Jeremy,
    I’m very interested in the email they sent to you on Jan 14 after you showed the film anyway. You have it hyperlinked to the legal docs.

    We’re in the same boat as you were, except now Patton Boggs is picking on a tiny film festival organized by a nonprofit. If you’re interested in what our event is, you can find us on Facebook, search ‘Austin Fair Trade’. BTW, the sent us the EXACT letter…

    Very best,

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