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Film documents controversial UF fraternity party

By STEVE PERSALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


Two Miami filmmakers are making waves at a prestigious film festival with a documentary based on a 1999 incident at a University of Florida fraternity house.

In the legal proceedings that followed the incident, video shot during a wild party was the star witness. Now, that footage is the star of a movie.

Director Billy Corben and co-producer Alfred Spellman, both 21 and University of Miami students, are the youngest filmmakers ever invited to the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford's cinema showcase in Park City, Utah.

Their documentary, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, was not formally entered into competition, but its screenings have generated buzz among prospective buyers for a distribution deal.

Raw Deal: A Question of Consent recounts the case of a party at the Delta Chi house at which Lisa Gier King (now Peterson), a 27-year-old stripper and professional escort, performed for male students. Later, King said, a Delta Chi member raped her.

After reviewing two graphic videotapes recorded at the party, university police and the Alachua County state attorney determined King was not a sexual battery victim. Prosecutors did, however, charge King with filing false charges.

That charge was never prosecuted. King later pleaded guilty to operating an escort service without a county license. Six Delta Chi members pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of lewd behavior. The fraternity was suspended from campus until 2002 but was approved by university officials for "re-colonization" last fall.

The authorities' refusal to pursue King's accusation of rape became a cause celebre for University of Florida/Santa Fe Community College Campus NOW, a chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Stephanie Seguin, 23, the president of Campus NOW, said that using footage of the sexual acts is "disgusting."

"They're just exploiting Lisa's rape for money," Seguin said.

Corben and Spellman were able to obtain copies of the videos because the state attorney's investigation made them public record.

The consent in question is whether King willingly participated in all sexual acts that night at Delta Chi.

"What we wanted to do (is) allow the audience to judge," Corben said in an interview. "We used the footage that was presented on both sides and we allow the audience to make up their own minds.

"What we've found is that (audiences) are virtually split down the middle. And regardless of what side they're on, they always seem to feel that the film is on that same side.

"To be honest, I still change my mind every day, watching my own movie."

King attended last Saturday's screening of Raw Deal: A Question of Consent at Sundance accompanied by her mother, Cendra Gier of Gainesville. After the show, King spoke to IndieWire, a Web publication covering the festival:

"All the reactions in Gainesville were biased because they either knew me or the frat guys or somebody involved," she said.

King's own reaction? "Regardless of what Billy's angle or motivation was he got the story out there when nobody else wanted to. (The filmmakers) did a better job of investigating this than the police."

Seguin said she resented Corben's claim in a press release that Campus NOW effectively "raped" King again by demanding a $5,000 fee for using interviews and information collected during Campus NOW's investigation of the case.

"It's absolutely ridiculous," Seguin said. "We were the ones who supported and believed her. We garnered support for her and, really, all women who get punished for reporting a rape."

Seguin said the $5,000 the filmmakers refused to pay would have been spent "to keep fighting rape."

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