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Toronto » Considering the three years it took to get from Utah County to North America's largest film festival, it's understandable that filmmaker Andrew James was getting teary-eyed.
"It's really emotional -- it's been a great journey," James said, standing next to his co-director, Joshua Ligairi, in front of the audience Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival before the world premiere of their documentary "Cleanflix."
The 90-minute documentary examines the cottage industry that sprung up in Utah in 2000, when a company named CleanFlicks started offering DVD and VHS rentals of Hollywood movies -- edited to remove violence, profanity and sexual content -- to a predominantly Mormon clientele.
Thom Powers, the festival's documentary programmer, introduced the movie with a joking nod to the Sundance Film Festival. "Every year the film industry goes to Utah for 10 days," Powers said, "and the rest of the year we don't think much about the place."
As the movie rolled, the movie-savvy Toronto festival audience learned about the once-thriving business of CleanFlicks and its imitators, and the conditions that prompted that success -- namely, the prohibition by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' leaders against Mormons viewing R-rated movies.
The movie also details how CleanFlicks went out of business when a federal judge in 2006 ruled the edited movies violated copyright laws, while some offshoot companies tried to keep going in spite of the ruling.
After the screening, James and Ligairi fielded questions about the morality of the edited-movie business and how owners of that business justified breaking the law. One owner, Robert Perry, of CleanFilms, did not. He shut down his business after the court ruling. "You can't break the law and consider yourself a moral person," Perry told the festival audience.
James said that if someone tried to edit his movie, "I'd absolutely be upset about it. They're censoring copyrighted pieces of art they don't own, and they're making a buck off of it."
Both Perry and Utah Valley University communications professor Philip Sherman Gordon, who were interviewed in the film and attended its Toronto premiere, were pleased with the results.
Gordon argued the CleanFlicks side has won, in a way, because recent federal law allows software like ClearPlay, which edits objectionable material from DVDs. Perry said he's happy his side of the story is being told. "I had a good feeling when I first met them that they would do a good job."
Powers, the festival's documentary programmer, said Toronto, with its concentration of movie press and industry, is "a huge launching pad" for "Cleanflix."
Having the premiere on neutral territory may be a plus as well, Perry said. "If this was at Sundance," he said, "we'd probably have picketing and riots."
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