THE BLOG
04/21/2006 01:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Porn, Press and Premieres: "American Cannibal's" Own Reality Drama

Huffington Post Blogs the Tribeca Film FestivalWhat happens when reality becomes stranger than a reality TV show? That was the conundrum, well sort of, for Perry Grebin and Michael Nigro, two documentary filmmakers whose film premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 26. "American Cannibal: The Road to Reality" chronicles an ill-fated reality TV production backed by porn mogul Kevin Blatt, the man best known for distributing the Paris Hilton sex video.

Over the last two weeks, as they feverishly worked toward the final print of their film, Grebin and Nigro also worked double-time battling Blatt whether or not the movie could actually screen at all. Blatt appears in the film several times talking openly about his "business" and how he got himself (and Hilton's night-vision proclivities), on the map. Blatt is also shopping a proposal for a tell-all book tentatively titled "The Accidental Pornographer" on the uh, ins and outs of marketing celebrity sex tapes.

Coincidentally -- or not -- Blatt filed a cease-and-desist order on April 12 to prevent the movie from being shown, ostensibly because he was concerned about "unauthorized" remarks he made on tape that might appear in "American Cannibal." Perhaps that's the truth; Blatt says: "I'm a nice Jewish boy from Cleveland, I can't have my parents be ashamed. I know we had some crazy wild parties and the cameras were rolling." But query whether they'll be bursting with pride over his forthcoming porn book -- or whether Blatt just wanted to save the juicy stuff for his own project.

Of course, controversy generates press and press is good for everyone here -- the filmmakers are in hot pursuit of a distribution deal, and Blatt may just be the key to the movie and getting butts in seats. A flurry of pre-screening activity never hurts, complete with a press conference by the filmmakers on April 13th, a planned (but subsequently scuttled) appearance by both sides on CNBC's "The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch," and finally the announcement yesterday that the matter had been amicably settled -- just in time for the film's premiere next Wednesday at the Tribeca Film Fest. "There's no such thing as bad press," as they say.

(Nigro said that the conflict was resolved over the phone with the filmmakers reading potentially offending passages from the movie's transcript to Blatt, which seemed to allay his concerns. But the real turning point may have come when the attorneys for the Tribeca Film Festival stepped in after Blatt threatened to put out a temporary restraining order to prevent the film from being shown, an action that would have dragged out over the next week. The Festival has the license for the film, so Blatt would have had to sue the Festival, not Acme Pictures, the small studio that made "American Cannibal." "I think Tribeca put the fear of God in him [Blatt]," Nigro says. Ah, but the show must go on. Blatt's star turn in "American Cannibal" may wind up being his first attempt to cross over into mainstream, rather than adult content.

But one can't help but wonder how both sides played each other in this reality show within a reality show about a doomed reality TV production. The drama between Blatt and the filmmakers seems as creatively concocted and surreal as "The Ultimate, Ultimate Challenge," the reality show chronicled in the movie. Both crafted for maximum benefit. While Blatt is a significant presence in the film and the filmmakers will undoubtedly reap the benefit of that association, "American Cannibal" really isn't about the Paris Hilton sex tape. It's a morality tale about the lengths to which people will go to attain C-list celebrity and the erosion of television entertainment.

The movie is a searing indictment of the reality TV business and consumers' obsession with reality shows -- getting on them and watching them. "American Cannibal" is about a trainwreck of a reality TV production in which contestants are practically starved to death on an island, fed little more than salt tablets and water while they compete in a series of high-impact, high-risk physical challenges. When one contestant suffers an injury and production shuts subsequently down, the drama quotient is upped significantly. The film questions the costs --spiritual, cultural, physica -- of reality TV as entertainment. In one of the more poignant scenes from the trailer, prospective contestants are asked during auditions: "Would you be willing, in order to save one of your teammates, to eat one of their fingers or toes?" The woman nervously, yet giddily answers: "This is really the ultimate, ultimate challenge!")

Ironically, or not so, the mini drama that's unfolded during the last week has all the makings of a reality TV production itself and serves as a clever metaphor underscoring the themes of the film. And yet Nigro says the movie isn't "even about Paris Hilton. This is not about sex tapes. This is not about Kevin Blatt," he states emphatically. (Note that on both the film's official website and the TFF description of the movie, Blatt's status as "the distributor of the Paris Hilton sex tapes" is prominently noted. Those nice Jewish Cleveland boys sure know how to do their parents proud.)

Lest anyone think it's not about Blatt, think again. In filing the cease-and-desist, Blatt claims he never got an opportunity to screen the film before the final cut. In typical "he said/she said" fashion, the filmmakers said Blatt declined several invitations to screen the movie before its final cut. One screening, which this writer attended, took place in January. "We invited him to see this movie time and again and his response was 'I just can't make it, I'm not really interested,'" says Nigro. (For the record, I found the film well-crafted, biting, and provocative.)

"Look, I'm just assuming that they put some footage [in the film] of me talking candidly about the Colin [Farrell] or Paris deal. Because it seems to me that every piece of publicity I see for the film seems to center on the Paris Hilton angle. Maybe that's how they want to sell this movie," Blatt says. The cameras followed Blatt with his permission for several months, during which time he "blabbed a lot about the celebrity sex tapes he constantly buys and sells. We could not help but record his comments about Paris Hilton, Colin Farrell, and Cameron Diaz," the filmmakers said in a press statement on April 13.

" 'American Cannibal' for us became such a perfect title -- we're just eating ourselves for entertainment, we're consuming everything out there including ourselves," Nigro says, calling Blatt "his own train wreck" that ultimately makes for a great show. To be sure. Too, by crafting their own reality tale set against the fable elaborated on in the movie, the filmmakers have unwittingly or perhaps not, contributed to the very cultural cannibalization illuminated in their movie.

Stranger still, earlier this week, Blatt was adamant about screening the film before its debut: "I don't want the movie coming out without me seeing it first, period," he says. "If they are going to capitalize from my celebrity, I want to be compensated for it and right now I'm getting bupkes."

Compensation? He's already received it in spades.

For more information about the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, go to: http://www.tribecafilmfestival.org/, and to check out "American Cannibal: The Road to Reality" and screening times, see: http://www.american-cannibal.com/.