Rockumentary Spurs Legal War

A wrangle over "MC5: A True Testimonial," a documentary about the legendary '60s Detroit rock band, has led one of the group's members to block the film's theatrical and DVD release.

Kick out the writs.

A wrangle over "MC5: A True Testimonial," a documentary about the legendary '60s Detroit rock band, has led one of the group's members to block the film's theatrical and DVD release.

The filmmakers have responded by using the unusual venue of federal bankruptcy court to assert their claims.

In 1996, two neophyte Chicago filmmakers, producer Laurel Legler and director Dave Thomas, approached the surviving members of the MC5 with their ideas for a feature documentary about the band.

According to documents obtained by ELW, guitarist Wayne Kramer was to be music producer for the film by Legler and Thomas' production company, Future/Now Films. Kramer, bassist Michael Davis, drummer Dennis Thompson and Rebecca Derminer, widow of vocalist Rob Tyner, were to be Class C participants in a limited liability company established for the film.

During the course of production, Kramer cooperated with the filmmakers, participating in on-camera interviews shot in Detroit and Chicago.

According to correspondence between Kramer's wife and manager, Margaret Saadi Kramer, and Thomas, the musician also helped secure the participation of ex-MC5 manager John Sinclair and producer Jon Landau in the film. However, Kramer's role as music producer was never formalized contractually.

The film was completed, and began screening at film festivals in 2002.

Last month, RCA Victor Group announced that it would release "MC5: A True Testimonial" on DVD May 4. New York distributor Avatar Films had picked up the film, and planned a limited theatrical release in March and April.

Kramer responded by asking Warner-Chappell not to grant a license for use of the MC5's songs in the theatrical and home video releases. Warner Music Group would not comment.

As a result of Warner-Chappell's action, RCA Victor Group pulled the DVD release, and the theatrical dates were put on hold.

Stymied, the filmmakers took their case to U.S. Bankruptcy Court in L.A. Kramer filed for personal Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 1999 (LA 99-48189-ES).

Legler, Thomas and Rebecca Derminer (a creditor in the original filing) moved to re-open the case, claiming "there are assets that should be administered that may return a dividend to creditors."

In response, Kramer said he did not oppose re-opening the case to amend certain schedules. However, he characterized the motion as "a flagrant attempt to coerce me and to abuse my rights."

"While it may be common practice in the music industry to extort consent from an artist, it is not acceptable for the Movants and their counsel to use the federal bankruptcy courts for that purpose," wrote Kramer's counsel, Jeffrey Shinbrot of Beverly Hills, Calif.

On April 6, Bankruptcy Court Judge Erithe A. Smith granted the motion to re-open. A trustee has 120 days to review potential assets. However, Smith added, "the case is not being re-opened to allow Movant or any other creditor to take any specific action."

Talks concerning the film's future have reached an apparent impasse. The filmmakers' attorney, Peter J. Strand of Holland & Knight in Chicago, says, "We have been negotiating on and off for a long time, hoping for a resolution, and that hasn't been reached." He declined to elaborate.

Kramer, Davis and Thompson have announced plans to tour as DKT/MC5, and plan their own DVD release later this year.