Academy-Awarding winning director Jonathan Demme had hoped that filming Jimmy Carter's speech at Brandeis University next week would become the powerful ending for his documentary on the former president. But Brandeis has refused to allow Demme to film Carter's speech or his interaction with the university's students Tuesday.
"When I heard that we had been denied permission, I was kind of incredulous," Demme said in a telephone interview yesterday. "They have in a way diminished everyone's ability to add to the debate, including the Brandeis students themselves."
Brandeis's refusal to allow Demme's filming has added another layer of controversy to a visit that has already sparked widespread debate. Last fall, Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz declined to invite Carter to speak unless he engaged in a debate with a scholar of an opposing view on Carter's controversial new book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Carter declined, but agreed to Tuesday's event after students and faculty took up a petition and formed a committee.
Lorna Miles, the university's senior vice president for communications, said there was no room for Demme in the 40-person media pool and that the Waltham-based university had made a decision early on to exclude documentary crews due to their special logistical challenges.
Miles said the reason the news crews were allowed and the documentary crews were not is because the documentaries needed signed releases from participants.
"I conveyed my regrets to Mr. Demme -- and I have utmost respect for his work -- but we simply do not have the staff or the flexibility to accommodate this," Miles said.
Demme's producer, Neda Armian of Newton, said that all that Brandeis would have had to do is hang a sign on the wall letting students know that the event was being filmed for a documentary.
Demme has been filming Carter for three months to compile footage for a documentary about the former president's book and Carter's efforts to increase debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Demme, who has directed more than 25 films, including "Silence of the Lambs," said that this is the first time he has been denied access to a venue during his filming of the Carter documentary, "He Comes In Peace."
"I thought, 'How can a film with the kind of aspirations we have be prevented from capturing a dialogue?" he said.
Demme said it had been "a dream come true" when he learned Carter would speak at Brandeis, a secular university where more than half of the student body is Jewish, because he felt that up until this point he has not captured the widest spectrum of views on Carter's book.
But Brandeis rejected every appeal by Demme's team this week, in a series of heated telephone and e-mail exchanges, which included lobbying from Hollywood firepower on the filmmaker's behalf.
Jeffrey Berg -- chief executive of International Creative Management, a major Hollywood agency that represents Demme -- said he spoke to Miles Thursday night.
"I was told that they were concerned that Brandeis might not come out in a favorable light," Berg said. He also said he had been told that Brandeis did not want to be a part of the documentary because it is a "commercial venture."
The student-faculty committee responsible for inviting Carter supports the decision to exclude Demme, said Kevin Montgomery, a Brandeis senior on the panel . He said that about six documentary crews had asked to film and that allowing all would have sacrificed too many student seats in the audience.