Siskel cans MPG’s “Obama in Africa” premiere fearing it might be construed as campaigning

MPG’s doc “Senator Obama Goes to Africa” won’t have its world premiere and only public showing at the Gene Siskel Center as announced.

The Siskel Center cancelled the scheduled Jan. 19 and Jan. 22 screenings, saying that showing it could jeopardize the Center’s status with the IRS as a non-profit institution.

Pressure was brought by the legal department of the Art Institute, the Center’s parent institution.

“The IRS could interpret the film as a lobbying effort for the Obama campaign,” Barbara Scharres, the Center’s programming director. “We’ve been told it cannot run until after the election,” as the film might be perceived as supportive of one candidate.

The Center discussed the film’s screening back in November but the show dates weren’t publicly disclosed until the end of December.

According to Scharres the Siskel Film Center is not obligated to present its slate of programming to the Art Institute until it is publicly released. Therefore, Scharres says, nobody believed the possibility it wouldn’t be able to screen.

MPG’s Bob Hercules, who directed the non-political film, says he is disappointed in the outcome but understands the reasons behind the decision.

“It’s not the fault of the film center, they like the film,” he says. “From a filmmakers’ perspective it’s one of the best theaters in town. I have a great deal of respect for them.”

Hercules started filming the documentary in August, 2006, long before Senator Obama announced his candidacy. He sees the film not as a campaign film but rather a personal odyssey of a man, who happens to be currently running for president, visiting the land of his ancestry.

“There was no campaign when we made this film,” says Hercules. “This is an independently made documentary. The money didn’t come from Obama’s organization at all.”

Hercules is hoping for another venue in which to premiere the film. It was released on DVD back in December and can be purchased on Amazon.com or firstrunfeatures.com.

MPG is located at 1327 W. Washington; phone 312/850-1300. See www.mediaprocess.com.

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