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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.  [May 6, 2004]





[]  Hollywood "liberals" are blacklisting him because he's made a film that's not sympathetic to Muslim terrorists -- and are also complaining that his script was "too white"!

Those are some of the shocking accusations of conservative filmmaker Jason A. Apuzzo, as stated in an exclusive interview with the Hollywood Investigator.

Apuzzo's Terminal Island tells the tale of a bounty hunter (actor John Barrett) tracking a Muslim terrorist who blows up buildings while stalking Sita (actress Govindini Murty) in and around L.A. Harbor. Shot on digital video for $7,000, the film runs at 82 minutes.

Apuzzo co-wrote Terminal Island with Murty, his wife. "Soon after I got out of the USC Cinema School, Govindini and I shopped a script, The Terrorist, to about 10 prominent art-house film companies," said Apuzzo. "We were told flat-out: If your story has anything to do with 9-11, we won't consider it.

"Our story had nothing to do with 9-11, specifically, so they looked at the script, and some even said they liked it, but they wanted it rewritten. They didn't like that Muslim terrorists were the villains. They wanted us to instead explain the terrorists' motivations, see things from their point of view, make them more sympathetic. One of the companies was then dealing with Robert Redford, so they couldn't possibly consider anything in which a terrorist might get killed.

"They also didn't like our multicultural cast. They wanted a lot more white people -- after all, Redford was watching!"

An odd accusation, considering Hollywood's liberal reputation -- a reputation that Apuzzo both confirms and laments. The Investigator asked Apuzzo if those were the exact words used by development executives. Did they actually say the terrorists should be "more sympathetic"? Did they specifically request "more white people" and a cast that was "less multicultural"? Were those their exact words?

Apuzzo unambiguously replied: "Yes."

Apuzzo continued: "They wasted months of our time with this kind of 'development advice' before informing us they weren't interested at all, because the subject matter was too explosive, no matter how much we reworked it. Bottom line: We had no prayer of getting funding to do a movie sympathetic to the War on Terror.

"So we wrote a completely different story, Terminal Island.  It'd be much grittier, more hardcore, and we'd shoot it ourselves. This time, nobody was going to tell us what we could say. We designed the film so that it could be shot on a micro-budget around L.A. Harbor, where I was living. We began with almost no budget, with everyone working for free. Eventually, we threw about $7,000 at it from our own pockets. My father was a tremendous help, as were credit cards.

"We created a terrorist-villain who is a Wahabi Muslim. We depict the misogyny motivating much of Islamic terrorism, and we make fun of liberals, the INS, even Clinton. There's also an argument made for interventions like the Iraq war -- get terrorists over there, before they come here. There's plenty of stuff for a good Hollywood liberal to hate."

Whatever the makeup of The Terrorist's cast, Terminal Island is mostly white. The bounty hunter, terrorist, Sita's boyfriend, and her INS boss are all white, at least as seen in black & white. (Despite shooting on digital video, Apuzzo released Terminal Island on black & white, opting for a noir look.) Murty (in the role of Sita) is the only "multicultural" actor in a lead role. [See Apuzzo's response.]

"We shot the film on mini-DV, using a Canon XL-1. Because it's such a great camera in low-light, we didn't need expensive lighting packages for our nighttime shoots -- important, because almost the entire film occurs at night. We didn't need crews for the lighting packages. So we could shoot discreetly, guerrilla-style, without calling attention to ourselves."

Guerrilla filmmaking is common among low-budgeters, and generally refers to filming without a permit. A cast and crew infiltrate a location, quickly taking their shots before getting caught, then depart. Terminal Island's locations include a public mall and wharfs.

"One night the crew of Dreamworks's Seabiscuit called the cops on us, without even asking whether we had a permit," complained Apuzzo. "A funny thing, considering their movie was about an underdog who beats the odds." He added sardonically, "I'm sure no one on their crew ever shot a film guerrilla-style..."

Terminal Island was edited and mixed in Final Cut Pro, on my iMac. We showed the trailer at the L.A. Final Cut Pro User's Group, and got an enthusiastic response. Nobody believes we did it for $7,000. This year's Sundance winner also had a $7,000 budget.

"Terminal Island is a product of the digital revolution, a revolution slow in the making but profound in its consequences, because it's embraced by people forced to work outside Hollywood's production system."



* Critical Reviews


Terminal Island is technically proficient, its crisp black & white images, canted frames, and period Duke Ellington scores evoking 1955's Kiss Me Deadly. The acting is competent, if unremarkable.  About as good as on most straight-to-video exploitation films. The same is true of the script, which, despite a few good lines, has its share of flat dialogue and clichéd situations. Most impressive are Apuzzo's Mac-produced special effects of exploding buildings (see above). Least impressive is his terrorist.

Apuzzo's terrorist is not only unsympathetic, he's uninteresting. His few lines are mostly spoken over cell phones. He wears a hooded sweat suit throughout the film, which, along with the murky lighting, obscures his face. From what little we see, he's thirtyish white guy, with a sandy beard & moustache.

Oddly, he behaves less like a terrorist than a slasher. Jason-like, he single-handedly lifts a burly man off the ground by the neck, then knifes him. When not bombing buildings, he mostly stalks "slutty" women. He eschews guns, preferring a knife, garret, and poker iron. And he refuses to die, arising after being "killed." Yet he lacks the charisma of a Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, evoking the nondescript slasher in Final Exam.

Not that anyone would confuse Terminal Island, which Apuzzo calls a "suspense thriller," with a slasher film. Although both slashers and Wahabis are reputedly mysogynistic, the slasher motifs in Terminal Island appear inadvertent and unconscious.  But it's curious to note how deeply "the slasher" has seeped into the cultural subconscious over the past 25 years, influencing other film genres.

Conservative film critic & radio talk show host Michael Medved raves about Terminal Island, providing blurbs for Apuzzo's DVD box.

Said Medved: "Jason Apuzzo shows stylish flair as a director that belies the limitations of his shockingly modest budget. The camera work, editing, and inventive touches suggest considerable savvy and unexpected wit on the part of an able and ambitious filmmaker."

About Murty, Medved said: "Govindini Murty displays undeniable star power. From every angle, in every mood, the camera loves her and she glows on the screen ... She possesses the sort of exotic and potent appeal combined with unmistakable intelligence that should guarantee a spectacular success."

To the Investigator, Apuzzo added: "Govindini was a successful stage actress and writer in Vancouver, with a B.A. from Yale, before we were married or making films together."

The DVD box has nothing on John Barrett (the bounty hunter). He appears to be a seasoned actor nearing middle age, offering the film's most skilled performance. Nuanced, though sometimes low on energy, he is best when handling wry humor, less believable as the tough guy beating up a much younger and bigger man without breaking a sweat.



* A Blacklisted Conservative?


Apuzzo claims that "liberal" Hollywood has blacklisted him because of Terminal Island -- and that his film is being compared to Mel Gibson's The Passion.

"Our problems began when ten elite Hollywood agencies requested to see the trailer, or the film itself," said Apuzzo. "Soon after we sent the DVDs, we began getting obscene, harassing, threatening phone calls -- mafia type stuff. We may change our home number. The word we get from inside the system is we're being blacklisted. Our film is apparently being passed around as an example of what The Passion may unleash -- and what therefore has to be squashed. Don't want those conservatives getting uppity, after all!

"It's not enough these people own Hollywood. They have to destroy anyone with a different opinion.  If you're an independent filmmaker, this kind of thing is frightening."

Apuzzo seems to equate opposing Bush's foreign policy with being a liberal. Yet is that valid? Some leftists and liberals supported Bush's wars (Christopher Hitchens, The New Republic, Tony Blair's New Labour) as do otherwise liberal celebs (Dennis Miller), while some conservatives and most libertarians oppose Bush's wars (The American Conservative, Chronicles, Liberty, Harry Browne, LewRockwell, the Libertarian Party, Libertarians for Peace, The term neoconservative -- popularized by Irving Kristol in 1983 -- has gained usage partly to differentiate war-conservatives from peace-conservatives.

Are Hollywood liberals united in opposing Bush's War on Terror, as Apuzzo seems to think?

"We're getting a little off-subject here," said Apuzzo. "Let me just say that none of these issues are relevant to our film. None of that stuff is central to the story. Most people who've seen the film just find it entertaining. We made no effort to make a controversial film. I don't think Gibson intended a controversial film. Only Hollywood finds The Passion to be controversial. Everyone else finds it to be a sincere, skillful retelling of the Passion story.

"The point is, if you do anything that veers from liberal orthodoxy, Hollywood will pounce on you.  We learned [that] from The Passion. All Gibson did was shoot a relatively conventional, Catholic Passion-play -- and nearly got lynched for it."



* Strong Feminine Ethnic Women


Apuzzo makes another charge, as curious and unexpected as his claim that Hollywood executives disliked The Terrorist's multicultural cast.  He accuses Hollywood of disliking strong feminine women of color"

"One more thought on why the Hollywood aristocracy hates our film," Apuzzo said. "It's basically a woman's film. A woman's hopes and dreams are at the center of the story. But Govindini's character isn't your typical Hollywood man-hating, careerist, blonde WASP harpie-feminist. She's ethnic, she's intelligent, and she manages to retain her femininity while standing up for herself. We hadn't realized this would be so controversial, but our crank callers don't seem to like this very much."



* Conservative Distribution


Apuzzo draws inspiration from The Passion, seeing it as demonstrating the potential of independently distributed conservative films.

"The Passion has changed everything," said Apuzzo. "It's the first film launched by the conservative media. Newmarket Films only needed to spend $15 million marketing it, because it was being discussed on Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, The O'Reilly Factor, Drudge Report, Newsmax, Michael Medved, Michael Savage, etc. The marketing power of the conservative media is phenomenal. Look at the sales of conservative books.

"What conservatives don't seem to realize is that the same thing can happen again and again if we just encourage other talent. Gibson can't do it alone, and we can't just wait for the next Bible movie to come out.

"The problem is, conservatives frequently don't help each other. We backbite and nit-pick ourselves to death, while the other side laughs. You'd be sickened by the stories I could tell you about famous media conservatives stabbing each other in the back.

"The other problem is that many conservatives prefer Hollywood as a convenient whipping-post, rather than doing anything. It's easier to go on radio and complain about Michael Moore. But if people get the sense that conservatives can compete, then you have to change the storyline. You have to actually do something creative, get your hands dirty, rather than just complain."

"Hollywood will learn nothing from The Passion. They're too set in their ways, run by media conglomerates who don't give a rat's ass about personal filmmaking. The Passion may be the only truly edgy, personal film Hollywood's produced since the 1970s. It's what The Godfather or The Exorcist or Taxi Driver were in their day. All Hollywood wants are franchise films for teens with disposable income.  And all the indies care about is their liberalism."

Again, how true is that charge? While indies, like Hollywood, may be dominated by some definition of liberalism, David Lynch has been open in his praise of Reagan. And indie filmmaker Whit Stillman has long been a darling of conservatives.

Apuzzo added that he can work comfortably with liberals. Director Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) has a cameo in Terminal Island, playing an informer, and is given special thanks in the credits. "Kersh is an ardent liberal," said Apuzzo. "Actually a Green.  But we have no trouble working together."

As for Terminal Island's distribution history so far, Apuzzo said, "We were turned down by Cannes.  No surprise. Toronto is a ways off, as is Sundance, but those festivals are so left-wing, we don't have a chance. There's a conservative film festival being organized in Texas, and they're interested in spotlighting our film for their Sept. 11th event. We'll see how that goes.

"Our goal is theatrical distribution and we're going to get it.  Even if it's just a few screens in big markets.  Hollywood needs competition and we're going to provide it."

About the cast makeup of TERMINAL ISLAND, Apuzzo responds:

"Al Hayya happens to be played by a Lebanese Christian guy whose stage name is Nick Nyon, but who's actual name is Sam Abraham.  As for John Barrett, the bounty hunter, he happens to be half-Phillipino. And as for the rest of the cast -- and this could easily have been verified by looking in the credits -- MOST OF THE CAST IS NON-WHITE.

Sukaro is played by Reuven Jerzy, a former Israeli fighter pilot. Estelle is played by Bronwyn Hardy, a black woman, who has a larger role than the boss (even in black-and-white!). Omar is played by Arash Ghaneian, who is Iranian. Garcia is played by Lisa Joffrey, who is half-hispanic. The 'checkbook' terrorist was played by Salah Salea, an Iraqi who escaped Iraq during the Gulf War.

The other terrorist who breaks in on John's room is played by Sagi Degon, a former Israeli special forces soldier. Sukaro's dinner guests are played by: Rajeev Chhibber, who is Indian, and Carlos Castillo, who is Hispanic. In the bar where John picks up the China Seas access card, we had Grace Chen, a Chinese woman.

We had 20 people in the cast overall, and 9 have no 'white' background whatsoever, while 3 others (Govindini, John, Lisa) had non-white parents. That leaves 8 other cast members, half of whom are Jewish (Scott Schwartz, Alex Stone, Craig Raisner, Irvin Kershner)!  So for you to say that the cast is 'mostly white' is completely misleading. "

Okay, but the cast still looks mostly white to me (as do many Hispanics, Israelis and other Middle Easterners, and people of mixed heritage). -- TMS
Read the Investigator's previous report on Jason A. Apuzzo's USC student film about Al Gore.

Copyright 2004 by



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