After announcing screenings for “Woody Allen month,” a Stillwater film group has found itself at the center of a debate about how and if art can be separated from its artist.
The St. Croix Film Society, which was founded about a year ago, typically screens two films a month, often by the same director or screenwriter. When last week’s showing of Allen’s “Manhattan” was first announced on social media, the comments stacked up, with many commenters calling the society’s decision “tone-deaf” in light of sexual assault accusations against Allen. He’s denied the allegations that he molested his adopted daughter when she was a child, and he’s never been charged.
Last month, a former model said she had an affair with Allen when she was in high school and he in his 40s. Allen’s “Manhattan” centers on a romantic relationship between a 42-year-old divorcee and a 17-year-old girl.
“Showing ‘Manhattan’ was a misstep,” said Jerry Clark, a founding member of the St. Croix Film Society. “It’s definitely been a learning experience for me and all of us at the society. We didn’t mean to hurt anyone and we will definitely be more considerate moving forward for sure.”
Before the screening, Clark invited the audience of about 30 to briefly discuss the idea of separating a work of art from its artist.
Mollie Wetherall, 24, said facilitating that conversation was a step in the right direction for the society.
“I’m grateful to [Clark] and the society for being willing to engage on this,” said Wetherall, who studied film at Carleton College.
Clark said the society will not screen “Hannah and Her Sisters” — the second Allen film he’d planned to show — and is considering Wetherall’s suggestion to instead show “Outrage,” a 1950 film that was one of the first screenplays to address the topic of rape.
“There are many filmmakers we could be celebrating instead [of Woody Allen],” Wetherall said. “What are we losing by continuing to give [Allen] a platform?”
In the era of #MeToo, such debates are likely to continue, said Andrew Peterson, executive director of FilmNorth, a St. Paul-based nonprofit aimed at advancing independent filmmakers.
“We are in the early stages of figuring out how we are going to respond to these questions,” Peterson said. “I think there are ways you can present these even in the most prickly of times, but it requires care and sensitivity.”
For Clark, the blowback on social media initially came as a surprise. However, he said he’s appreciative of the feedback and open to more discussion.
“We’ve learned to be more considerate,” Clark said. “It was a poor decision and one we won’t be making again.”