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Hot Coffee at Carolina Theatre, prepping for Halloween

by Mark Burger

Things are certainly heating at the Carolina Theatre (310 S. Greene St., Greensboro) with its screening next Tuesday (Oct. 9) of director Susan Saladoff’s award-winning 2010 documentary Hot Coffee.

The Deuterman Law Group of Greensboro is hosting this free screening of the film, which was an official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, examines four different lawsuits, each with a far-reaching impact. Hot Coffee takes its title from the 1994 case of Stella Liebeck, a  woman who sued the billion-dollar fastfood chain McDonald’s after purchasing a cup of coffee and accidentally spilling it onto her lap. She received third-degree burns and required immediate hospitalization, followed by surgery and subsequent treatment.

The case became the punchline for countless jokes about frivolous lawsuits — David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld were among those funnymen who made light of the situation — yet at the end of the day (and the case), Liebeck was awarded over $150,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages.

Liebeck’s isn’t the only story examined in the documentary: Lisa Gourley sued her doctor for negligence after one of her twins was born with severe brain damage — a situation that could have been prevented. Gourley and her husband were initially awarded $5.6 million, but Nebraska’s law on caps reduced the total to $1.25 million, which probably won’t be enough to pay for her son’s lifetime of medical care.

Jamie Leigh Jones, an employee of Halliburton, participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom during the Gulf War but was drugged and raped by male co-workers in an all-male barracks — after having been assured before she left the US that her accommodations would be with two other women. Frequently thwarted and frustrated in her attempts to seek justice, Jones would turn to Sen. Al Franken, who proposed a Constitutional amendment that would allow Jones to face Halliburton in court.

Finally, there’s the case of Oliver Diaz, a member of the Mississippi Supreme Court, who was targeted by the US Chamber of Commerce because he was deemed not to be serving the best interest of business groups. With both his career and reputation on the line, Diaz was so determined to fight back — and so vocal in that fight — that it inspired best-selling novelist John Grisham to turn Diaz’s story into his book The Appeal. (Updates about these people and their cases can be found on the film’s official website: http://www.hotcoffeethemovie.com/.)

First-time filmmaker Saladoff, herself a former public-interest attorney, offers a comprehensive look at the legal system of the US today, and how it can be twisted and subjugated. What constitutes a “frivolous” lawsuit, and what steps can people take to ensure that their rights are neither compromised or denied? These issues are examined in the film and  will be discussed in an informal questionand-answer session scheduled immediately after the screening at the Carolina Theatre.

For more information, call 336.373.1130 or e-mail media@deutermanlaw.com. The official Carolina Theatre website is www.carolinatheatre.com.

Hot Coffee is also available on DVD from Docurama Films/New Video and retails for $29.95.

‘Tis the season for things to go bump in the night. Just ask Ken Comito, the writer/ director/executive producer of In the Devil’s Courthouse, a low-budget independent shocker filmed throughout North Carolina and covered in this column since its production.

Comito and Company will be sharing the scares when In the Devil’s Courthouse is screened Friday, Oct. 19 at the Varsity Theater (123 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill). Start time is 9 p.m. and tickets are $12.50. Then on Saturday, Oct. 27 — just in time for Halloween — the film will be screened at the Carolina Theatre (222 1st Ave. NW, Hickory). Start time is 11:30 p.m. and tickets are $15.

Members of the cast and crew will be on hand at both screenings to meet and greet fans and sign autographs. Audience members can even have their photos taken with characters from the film. (Yes, you too can have your photo taken with the zombie or creature of your choice!) There will also be DVD and lobby card giveaways, and the 100th and 200th tickets sold at each show will get an additional ticket free.

Inspired by local legend, In the Devil’s Courthouse stars Ashley Marie Nelson and Dustin Webb as siblings confronted by a diabolical, murderous force. The blood runs red (and freely), the body count is high and the screams are frequent — just as it should be in any self-respecting horror film!

The film marks the feature debut of Comito, a life-long aficionado of all things scary who wanted to put his passion into practice.

“Working on and completing In the Devil’s Courthouse with my family and a great group of friends, cast and crew was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget,” said Comito, who is currently writing a couple of horror shorts, shooting a music video and prepping two upcoming features.

“After a long, long time away from doing anything in the film world, this group came together and helped make it all happen,” he said. “For that, I am eternally grateful.”

In the Devil’s Courthouse, which is also an official selection at the 2012 Killer Film Fest, scheduled for Nov. 1-3 at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass., is also available on Amazon.com instant video and DVD, and has also secured worldwide VoD distribution via Red Monkey Entertainment. The official website for the film is: inthedevilscourthouse.com.

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