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January 21, 2009

Sundance Slugfest: The Blow by Blow

By Amy Kaufman

PARK CITY, Utah -- Who said the passion has gone out of the movies? Emotions boiled over at the Sundance Film Festival Wednesday morning when film critic John Anderson repeatedly punched veteran publicist Jeff Dowd over a disagreement about "Dirt! The Movie!"


The slugfest took place on Wednesday morning after a screening at the Holiday Village Cinema . Dowd - who inspired the iconic "The Dude" character in "The Big Lebowski" - apparently asked Anderson about his dislike for the movie one too many times. Dowd, is in Park City to help sell the film.


In full view of witnesses at the Yarrow coffee-house, the critic punched Dowd – boxer-style - in the shoulder, chest, and then full on the lip.


Sundance hasn’t been this much fun since Harvey Weinstein got into a screaming match in a restaurant with producer Jonathan Taplin over who had actually bought the rights to the Australian movie Shine.


Wednesday’s disagreement began as Anderson and Dowd left the screening of the  environmental documentary, which is about the human connection to the dirt we tread on. Dowd asked Anderson -- whose is reviewing films for Variety and was the longtime critic for Newsday  – what he thought . According to Dowd, Anderson said he thought the film was simplistic and repetitive, "beating people over the head to make the same point."


Frustrated by the negative comments, Dowd countered that many people had loved the film. "If they like it, they're just sheep," was the film critic's reply, Dowd said. Anderson did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.


But Dowd wouldn't accept Anderson's dismissal. He walked alongside the critic towards the Yarrow Hotel, urging Anderson to view the movie as an empowering work. The film critic was peeved, and ordered Dowd to leave him be or he’d punch him.


But Dowd didn’t, by his own admission. Instead, he returned to the restaurant with Jackie Martling, a radio personality who had also liked the film.


"I just want you to hear from one more person," Dowd said, reapproaching Anderson.


"I told you to get away from me. Get away from me right now!" warned Anderson.


"I'm telling you, this is a great movie," Dowd insisted.


Anderson stood up, assumed a boxer's stance, and punched Dowd three times, and then once more full on the chin.

Police arrived,  but Dowd said he wouldn't press charges because Anderson is a "really good guy and a father."


"From John's point of view… it might even be called harassment or something," the publicist admitted. "But frankly, at this moment of history, he has so much power if he pans a movie that people need to see."


To that end, Dowd says he and Park City Mayor Dana Williams are trying to organize a panel during the last few days of Sundance to discuss the altercation as well as the importance of the film.



coming soon: thewrap.com



Todd Everett

With all respect to the critic and the publicist (whom do you root for in this confrontation?), the presence of long-time Howard Stern colleague Jackie "the Jokeman" Martling causes me to raise an eyebrow.

Jay Singer

Seems like there should be a lot more of this. Hope there will be a panel to discuss it. We all know the pen is mightier... Flacks are courageous and have less power and good for Dowd to take a few on the chin for his client. In the end, Dowd wins,as he behaved quite honorably in note pressing charges.

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