IRA spy takes aim at TIFF
by: Etan Vlessing
Aug 22, 2008
The intended hero of Kari Skogland's upcoming feature Fifty Dead Men Walking aims to stop the film in its tracks.
The Canada/U.K. copro is scheduled to receive a Toronto International Film Festival gala world premiere on Sept. 10 at Roy Thomson Hall, with Skogland and lead actors Ben Kingsley, Jim Sturgess and Rose McGowan walking down the red carpet.
But former IRA mole Martin McGartland, whose 1998 autobiography of the same name inspired Skogland's terrorism drama, is on a mission to disrupt the TIFF bow.
"I have refused categorically to be associated, connected or related to the film. More than that, because I am the author of the book, and the subject of the film, which I have seen, I don't recognize the film," McGartland said from an undisclosed location on Britain's mainland, where he has lived on the run from the IRA since he was exposed as a plant for Britain's Special Branch in 1991.
"I, and also my solicitors, have made it very clear to all parties involved that I am reserving all my legal rights and remedies in this matter," he added.
His threat followed the Friday cancellation of a Toronto press screening of the film. TVA Films, the title's Canadian distributor, cited a "print problem," and provided no future press screening date.
As a measure of the sensitivity surrounding the movie, the distributor earlier advised that only Canadian media were to attend the Aug. 22 screening, and only capsule reviews be written.
Undeterred by threats of a cease-and-desist order to be taken out against him by the producers, McGartland insists his moral rights have been infringed upon because Skogland includes fictional scenes in her movie that, he argues, will lead people to conclude he was present during instances of torture and murder.
"It's like a bad dream. When they bought the rights for the book, they must have read it, and then they turn it upside down in the film, and I, who lived it every day, don't understand it," says McGartland, who saw the film at a private London screening in May.
The former British spy, who has absorbed bullets and attacks to stay ahead of his IRA pursuers, says his book isn't about murder and torture, but saving lives.
He takes particular exception to a fictionalized scene in which he drives an IRA bomb specialist to a location where a device is planted and later explodes, killing a British officer.
Future Films' Stephen Margolis, the film's British producer, wrote in an Aug. 13 letter to McGartland that the bomb-planting scene has been "amended" to indicate the character Marty does not know the explosive expert in his car, nor his intention.
McGartland also takes issue with another fictionalized scene in which Marty is in a room where an IRA informant is tortured and shot. Margolis in his letter concedes that the original book on which the film is based "does not make reference to you actually being present at a torture by the IRA of a suspected British informer."
At the same time, Margolis argues he cannot see how that scene could harm McGartland's honor or reputation, as he is portrayed as working for the Special Branch, and that "Marty's behavior and expressions" during the scene betray that he does not want to be in the room.
Brightlight Pictures' coproducer Shawn Williamson says that beyond a legal disclaimer attached to the film, he's not certain how McGartland can be placated.
"He gave us notes," Williamson says. "We are listening to him."
Since learning of the TIFF world premiere, McGartland has grown increasingly combative, as he maintains that the film's producers have kept him in the dark about the movie's rollout and have not shown him edits or a voice-over recently added to the movie's beginning.
Skogland had little to add about the controversy swirling around the TIFF launch, as the matter could yet tip into the courts.
"I had to make some fictionalizations of aspects of the story," says Skogland.
Behind the scenes, however, the film's producers have made hurried edits and alterations in an as-yet elusive attempt to appease the film's main subject.
At the same time, the producers take exception with McGartland's contention that Skogland touts her movie as a true story, when it contains fictionalized scenes that leave audiences potentially unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.
They further insist they had no control over a TIFF press release that refers to Skogland "exploring the true story of a young man forced to infiltrate the Irish Republican Army".
"This statement does not expressly or impliedly assert that the film itself is a true story," Margolis argues.
He adds that the movie now contains an opening statement that indicates Fifty Dead Men Walking is "inspired" by McGartland's book and "that some scenes, events and characters have been changed."
TIFF representatives were not available for comment on the potential legal entanglement surrounding the upcoming Fifty Dead Men Walking gala.
Meanwhile, McGartland is talking about possibly attending the film's gala premiere at TIFF, and coming out of hiding to hold a press conference to defend his side of the story.