Small protest, heightened police presence at Sundance premiere of Michael Jackson doc

Local News

PARK CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – There was a heightened police presence in Park City ahead of the premiere of a documentary detailing alleged sexual abuse of young boys at the hands of late pop star Michael Jackson. 

“Leaving Neverland” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Friday morning to a huge crowd, many waiting in line for standby tickets to the controversial documentary, in which several of Jackson’s former accusers renounce previous claims that he did not molest them at his Neverland home when they were younger. 

One of the alleged victims testified more than ten years ago that the pop star did not abuse him, leading to an acquittal on sexual abuse charges against Jackson. Now, that alleged victim is claiming in the documentary that he had not fully processed what happened and is now changing his story. 

“I don’t think this film is about providing a voice for a victim,” said Catherine Van Tieghen, who came from Canada to protest the documentary that she called “defamatory.” 

“If Michael were alive this film would not be legal…,” said Van Tieghen, who traveled to Park City with a friend to protest the film. “There are no laws currently that protect deceased people from defamation…”

The First Amendment may, in some jurisdictions, protect individuals from defamation tort when the subject of the statement is a deceased person. Still, the Jackson estate has slammed the documentary as defamatory as well. It’s unclear whether litigation will follow. 

“I think the timing of it is quite interesting,” said Sundance visitor and New York attorney Damali Peterman, “especially with all the other controversies with Bill Cosby and others – and at the height of the Me Too movement; and so I think it makes it more interesting, because now we have children as the victims.”

Reports of death threats against the director of the film, Dan Reed, prompted the extra police presence, according to law enforcement sources. The film’s premiere in Salt Lake City at the Broadway Centre Cinema 3 Saturday may also draw extra security. 

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