Over a month after the City of New York issued a subpoena against Ken Burns’ upcoming Central Park Five documentary, the filmmaker’s lawyers are formally seeking to quash the city’s efforts. “The City defendants’ sweeping subpoena for nearly all of the video and audio recordings gathered by Florentine Films in its research for the documentary film The Central Park Five is substantially overbroad, premature and fails to overcome the qualified reporter’s privilege that applies to these unpublished, non-confidential newsgathering materials,” said the 27-page memorandum (read it here) filed last week. Burns and fellow filmmakers David McMahon and Sarah Burns’ documentary centers on the wrongful conviction of five youths in 1989 for the heavily reported brutal rape of a jogger in the NYC park. Upon their release, the now-grown men filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city. IFC Films is releasing Central Park Five theatrically on November 23, and the docu will air on PBS early next year; the legal action will not impact distribution plans.
New York wants to see whether there is material or documentation from the making of the film that could exonerate their officials’ handling of the initial case. Florentine’s lawyers think the City is fishing. “Providing nothing so far other than conjecture as to relevance, it is clear that the City has issued the Subpoena as nothing more than a speculative probe premised on the vague hope for impeachment or other useful evidence without any showing that it relates to ‘a significant issue in the case,’ ’’ says the filmmakers’ filing.
With its offices close for the Veterans Day holiday, the City of New York had no response to the memorandum. Florentine is represented by John Siegel and Peter Shapiro of NYC firm Baker & Hostetler.