Originally created 06/17/04

Little Rock, Ark., hosts world premiere of Clinton documentary



LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- More than a thousand people turned out for the world premiere of "The Hunting of the President," a film claiming to expose "the 10-year campaign to destroy Bill Clinton."

The 90-minute documentary re-creates interviews conducted for the best-selling book of the same name by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. Rough versions have played at four film festivals.

The first public showing Tuesday night, at $50 a ticket - with the proceeds going to several Arkansas-based charities - drew a large crowd to a ballroom at the Statehouse Convention Center, a short walk from where Clinton celebrated his two presidential election victories. It is also next door to the Peabody Hotel, formerly the Excelsior, where Clinton accuser Paula Jones said he harassed her when he was governor.

Attendees included Susan McDougal, who went to jail rather than cooperate with Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr; retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who sought the Democratic Party's presidential nomination this year; and former Arkansas Sen. David Pryor.

The documentary, narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Morgan Freeman, was to be given its New York premiere Wednesday.

During Tuesday's showing, appearances by Starr on the screen drew boos and hisses from the crowd, while Jones' image produced laughter.

Afterward, McDougal, who plays a large part in the film, got a standing ovation when she was called to the stage.

Producer Harry Thomason, one of Clinton's good friends, said Tuesday that he read the book in 2001 and thought it would make a good movie, but he had a hard time digging up money to produce it.

"I thought this is a good yarn - there are villains, there are good guys," Thomason said. "But every place I went to finance the movie, nobody wanted to touch it. They said, 'It's been eight years, there's a new president, nobody wants to hear anything about (the Clinton) administration."

A few false starts later, Thomason cobbled together the money and a distributor, sorted through hours of interview tapes and made the movie. He says the timing, out just months before the election, is coincidental.

"We're out now, not because of the election - we were just slow," Thomason said. "We wanted this movie out six or seven months ago, but we just couldn't make it."

He sees competition from Michael Moore's documentary, "Fahrenheit 911," due out in theaters nationwide on June 25.

"I think Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 911' will bury us," Thomason said. "But ... I think his film will take in enough at the box office that it probably might even help us some, too."

The film purports to uncover a right-wing manipulation of the media, which Thomason says began with President Nixon's call to counter liberal messages in the 1970s.