On September 9th, award winning indie filmmaker John Fucile’s morning was rudely interrupted by an unexpected trip to a New York City jail. Fucile was apprehended for selling DVDs of his own films, “Beat the Blue” and “Zero,” on the street. He was charged with “Vending Without a License.” If that doesn’t ruin your day, nothing will. We recently spoke with John to find out just what happened.
Where exactly were you selling these DVDs?
The arrest took place by undercover officers on Broadway in New York City, just south of 14th Street in the Union Square area.
How long were you out there selling DVDs before you were nabbed?
I was set up with a little portable DVD player (like a digital lumiere bros!) for about 10 days before being arrested. They initially rolled up on me because they assumed I was selling bootlegged copies of “Gigli” or some other s**t movies, but after they asked for ID they soon realized they were mine. The officers did not want to arrest me, but the lieutenant (Bad – according to the officers he was with), said, “Well this is new….I have arrested authors, painters and musicians but NEVER a filmmaker. Let me think about this.” I said, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I can’t get a vendors license because as an artist the commission won’t give me one. They told me I am an artist and visual art is recognized as free speech.”
“Let me think about this”, he pondered. Then put the cuffs on in front – to cut me a break as he put it.
So what happened at the police station?
We – the police, a Senagalese jewelry maker and myself – rolled around for an hour or so, looking for another ‘body’, but eventually made it to the 6th Precinct in Greenwich Village. I was marched through the Village with the cuffs now behind my back for effect, locked up with a guy who was accused of Forcible Confinement of a Minor and Assaulting a Police Officer, another guy who had been in 157 times as well as a few people who were there for selling stolen phone cards. I was never at any point read my rights. My belt and shoe laces were taken, I was fingerprinted, mug shot, and told to wait until my record, if any, came back from Albany. Nine hours later they released me with a DAT (Desk Appearance Ticket) meaning that my court date in the Criminal Court of New York City is scheduled for October 7th at 9:30 am.
They knew that I was selling my own films when I was at the precinct. Several officers were making fun of the arresting officers for nabbing a filmmaker selling his own films, but at least they all got paid overtime for the long hours of paperwork. They confiscated approximately 30 DVDs and the player. I have yet to receive them back. The case has been taken on by the Institute for Justice (ij.org) out of Washington and my attorney will be trying to get everything back as well as a civil case for violation of my constitutional rights.
What do you predict will happen on October 7th?
I cannot predict what will happen on October 7th as I have never been arrested for anything. There are several people whom I met last week at the IFP market who are interested in filming the ‘event’ and discussions with my lawyer are ongoing. My goal is to get my s**t back as well as written permission for filmmakers to sell their own films.
Is the New York City Police Department a friend of independent cinema?
The New York City Police Department likes films, but not filmmakers would be my take on things. One note – since my arrest I have been back selling in the exact same spot. Several undercover, as well as uniformed, officers have come by and not had ANY problem with what I am doing.
Visit John at the SmackDabMedia website.