Letter to the Editor


Hello. I am a graduate student in screenwriting, with a perspective to share about the recent events surrounding the screening of “Apocalypto.”

I think the event at the Cinematheque was, despite the global news brouhaha that came from it, on the whole a highly successful evening. I was privileged to be present and a part of the dialogue with Mr. Gibson, and at the end of the night reflected on his visit with us as the single most powerful event I have attended in my time on campus.

I think Dr. John Schultheiss, chairman of the department of Cinema and Television Arts, is to be commended for arranging the screening and discussion, as well as for his particular efforts to set a dignified and respectful tone at the evening’s outset.

As was clear to many of us in the room, however, there were those in attendance who were interested neither in dignity nor dialogue. Rather, a now-infamous contingent arrived with an ideological axe to grind, and I think it evident that Estrada used Gibson’s personal appearance as an opportunity to make her bones, as it were.

Much has been said about their exchange- too much, I think- which comprised only five minutes out of Gibson’s wide-ranging, ninety-minute discussion with students and faculty.

I would like to note here something that was not included in the coverage of the event I saw, including the Daily Sundial’s Monday cover story, the Daily News Saturday edition, and websites like TMZ.com. Gibson offered, some time after the protestors had been escorted out, that he could have been more gracious to them. He expressed his wish that the encounter had gone differently, but added that he felt “ambushed” by Estrada and her companion.

Beyond the director’s quieter moment of self-evaluation, however, is still another angle to the story that has gone unnoticed thus far.

As I understand it, both the editorial staff and photographer from the Daily Sundial were informed that photographs were only permitted on the condition that the resulting pictures would be shared only between the Daily Sundial and the University’s in-house publications. The photographer, Khristian Garay, agreed to this condition.

Yet Garay, after the screening, apparently sold the photos to the paparazzi, which resulted in the news explosion we all witnessed.

A world-renowned filmmaker, working at the peak of a global art and industry, generously shared his time, and reflections on his filmmaking experiences, with the students of the University. And then the Daily Sundial photographer did precisely what Gibson had observed of the protestors- ambushed him.

The CTVA department had offered Gibson assurances that it was safe to come and share his professional insights with us. He expressed reservations (and rightly so, we can see now) about there being any photography, but accepted our word that the pictures would stay with us. Before the day was out, however, photographer Garay confirmed Gibson’s fear- showing him that, no, he was NOT safe here. Our campus is NOT an environment where internationally known filmmakers can come to speak to an audience of adults without fear of receiving damning press, after the fact.

Will Gibson ever return to CSUN? Of course not. Will this discourage him from sharing his insights into filmmaking with others in a university setting? I think it will.

Will CSUN have a more difficult time in the future, attracting top talent of Gibson’s caliber to speak with our film students? There can be little doubt of the chilling effect this has caused among the very people the department would want most to invite and from whose insights we, the students, would benefit greatly.

Speaking as an eyewitness, I think Gibson has been unfairly maligned in the press. I believe the protestors were not interested in a dialogue about film, and were instead staging an event of their own. The lengthy bilingual reading of the written statement, and the heated rhetoric which Estrada fired at Gibson, were classic grandstanding. I was seated in the same row with Estrada and her companion Perez, and watched from just a few feet away as she baited Gibson: “It’s a racist film, and I demand an apology.”

It is my opinion the resulting firestorm in the press has been very much to Estrada’s liking.

However, and I think this is the critical piece, without the “incriminating” photos of Gibson available to lend a skewed sort of credence to the protestors’ claims (see “Mel attacked me” at TMZ.com), I believe the story would not have traveled nearly so far, nor created such a controversy. The photos essentially sold the story- photos that were, again, taken under false pretenses.

The Daily Sundial photographer Khristian Garay has, I think, committed a clear ethical breach, in addition to damaging Gibson’s reputation globally, and compromising the CTVA department’s ability to attract top filmmakers to the Cinematheque.

I believe this ethical breach is of sufficient seriousness Garay should be removed from the staff of the newspaper.

What is the lesson of this event? That it is okay to agree to conditions for a job, and then violate those conditions in the most extreme manner possible? That a chance to grab some quick and dirty cash doing a hatchet job on a university guest should be more highly valued than maintaining a standard of professional ethics?

What do we stand for, at CSUN? Greed and backstabbing opportunism, or sticking by our word?

In my opinion, Estrada did no honor either to herself or her field of study, in her encounter with Gibson. She came with the intent, it seems to me, of pouring gasoline on what was otherwise a superlative evening of film education. The photographer for the Daily Sundial, however, threw a lit match into the puddle. Gibson, the CTVA department, and journalistic ethics in the campus press were all burned, as a result. I believe it only fair that Khristian Garay be prevented from escaping the conflagration unscorched.

Respectfully Submitted, Paul Russell Laverack Graduate Student