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Lawsuit: Unfounded #MeToo claims cost a filmmaker festival honors

“Movements always go too far.” Lawyer says Atlanta Film Festival revoked his client’s prize without explanation

When the Atlanta Film Festival announced the 2018 feature film screenplay competition winners in early March, Samuel Goodwin was thrilled to be among them. His work was one of three chosen from more than 1,000 submissions, earning him free access to the festival and the ScreenCraft Writers Summit, in addition to “once in a lifetime one-on-one mentorship opportunities,” as a news release said at the time.

But Goodwin’s honor was rescinded, court documents say, after a “disgruntled former girlfriend” came forward with unspecified allegations. The lawsuit filed last week in Fulton County Superior Court bills the matter as #MeToo gone awry.

“Despite the fact that he has never committed any #MeToo-type offenses,” the lawsuit says, the film festival sent Goodwin an email that “informed him that it was ‘revoking (his) status as a winner and all prizes associated.’”

“AFF breached their contract with (Goodwin), withdrew a publicly announced prestigious award and badly damaged a young artist’s career without bothering to do a rudimentary investigation and without determining whether unstated allegations made about him were true or had any supporting evidence at all,” the lawsuit says. “(Goodwin) was never given any opportunity to defend himself.”

Atlanta Film Festival officials had no comment regarding the lawsuit. The event, held annually for more than 40 years, draws huge crowds and prominent guests. Artists including James Franco, Abigail Spencer, Wendell Pierce, Jason Reitman and Michael Hooker have appeared during past sessions and red carpets.

MORE: That time director James Gunn got testy with a fan at the Atlanta Film Festival 

James Franco at the Atlanta Film Festival

This year’s festival featured the Atlanta premiere of “Maynard,” the documentary about late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.

RELATED: The AJC’s coverage of the world premiere of “Maynard”

Attorney Randolph A. Mayer is representing Goodwin, 25, who graduated in 2014 from Florida State University’s acclaimed film school.

“Movements always go too far,” Mayer said. “Garrison Keillor would be an example. The allegations about him seemed so flimsy and yet he was erased as if he was in a Communist country.”

Keillor’s fall from public-radio prominence followed other high-profile professional collapses including that of disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein. In May, a New York grand jury returned indictments on rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse and sexual misconduct charges. He pleaded not guilty.

The legal action against Weinstein followed public accusations by numerous women, first reported by The New York Times in October 2017

Keillor was dismissed by Minnesota Public Radio in November 2017 amid unspecified complaints. Keillor told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that his crime was patting a woman on the back in a show of consolation and said in a statement on his web site he’d “been fired over a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.”

MORE: Garrison Keillor and Matt Lauer were fired at about the same time. Their public statements afterward were very different 

In the suit against the Atlanta Film Festival, Goodwin seeks damages, fees and the restoration of the prize for his screenplay, “Scout.” It is a drama about a “young African American woman, working on an oil pipeline in the remote mountains of Colorado (who) finds herself isolated and pinned down by an unseen assailant with a hunting rifle,” according to the original notice about winners.

The prestige of winning and the attendant networking with industry leaders “would have been the boost that that screenplay needed,” Mayer said. The work has now lost its marketability, the suit argues.

“We see it as a breach of contract with consequential damages,” Mayer said. “I believe the trial will put on experts to testify that the screenplay is so tainted as to be untouchable.”

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