Baltimore filmmaker made 'Waco' Screening: Former disc jockey Dan Gifford comes home Sunday for a three-day run of his Oscar-nominated documentary, 'The Rules of Engagement.'


July 03, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Baltimore radio fans may be surprised to learn that Dan Gifford -- who was a disc jockey at WBMD and WCBM in the 1960s -- will return to Baltimore on Sunday, not as a radio personality but as a filmmaker.

And not just any filmmaker. Gifford, a 1966 graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic, is the co-producer with wife Amy Sommer Gifford of "Waco: The Rules of Engagement," the Oscar-nominated documentary about the 1993 standoff between Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and the federal government.

It will be Gifford's second visit to Baltimore with the film, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 1996. In March, "Waco" was featured as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival showcase at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. According to Gifford, the message of "Waco" -- which is that the U.S. government not only mishandled the 51-day siege, but also started the fires that claimed 76 lives, has proven difficult to take on the college campus circuit.

"We got a lot of flak for bringing it over there from the [JHU] administration," said Gifford in a recent telephone interview, adding that he attributed the resistance to the university's dependence on government research money. But Gifford was just as disappointed in the Hopkins audience.

"The people at Hopkins who came to see the film couldn't care less about mass murder in the U.S.," he said. "It's class warfare. They're looking at the Davidians and saying, 'They're religious, and I'm not, I'm highly educated, they're not.' They'd like to see people like the Branch Davidians taken out of the gene pool. What strikes me is that these are the same people who would absolutely rip everybody about the world's failure to stop murder in Bosnia or clitoridectomies in Africa. They still get bent out of shape about Kent State and the Gulf of Tonkin. It's very elitist."

Gifford, who is in Denver producing the fiction feature "The Hungry Bachelors Club" with Sommer Gifford, lived in Baltimore as a teen-ager. His mother taught medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and his father worked at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

Gifford left Baltimore in 1969 and went on to pursue a career in television news, ultimately working as a producer for CNN and the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour. (Sommer Gifford worked for "A Current Affair" and Maury Povich.)

In 1995, Gifford, who has written extensively for journals and op-ed pages against gun-control laws and in support of civilians bearing firearms, met Mike McNulty, an insurance salesman who is an activist in trying to repeal concealed-weapons laws. McNulty, who had followed the Branch Davidian siege closely and continued to investigate it independently after it was over, had acquired some infra-red videotape taken by the FBI and wanted Gifford to package the material into a one-hour documentary.

"It was quite by accident," Gifford recalls of getting involved with "Waco." "If we had had a [fiction] project like 'The Hungry Bachelors Club,' we never would have done it. We thought it would be an hourlong thing, but we kept finding more and more stuff. It wouldn't fit into an hour. It was far more complex.

"It's just about intellectual honesty," Gifford says of the controversial conclusions the film reaches. "It's what Cliff Barrett, my news director at WCBM, always said. It's just a matter of determining what the facts really are and telling the public so they can make an informed decision."

"Waco: The Rules of Engagement" opens today at the Charles Theatre for a three-day run. After the film's final screening at noon Sunday, Gifford will be on hand to answer questions. Later that day, the film will be shown at the Libertarian Party's national convention in Washington.

SuperBly scary 'Tingler'

On local screens: The Charles Theatre continues its B-Films series Saturday at 11: 30 a.m. with William Castle's hair-raising "The Tingler" (1958), starring Vincent Price as a mad scientist extraordinaire. This is B at its B-est. "The Tingler" will be shown again Monday at 7: 30 p.m. Call 410-727-FILM for more information. "Stranger Than Paradise" and "The King of Marvin Gardens" end their double-run at the Orpheum on Sunday. Monday, two of the greatest films of all time -- hey, even the American Film Institute thinks so -- settle in for a weeklong stay: Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront" (1954) and "Sunset Boulevard" (1950). The Orpheum is at 1724 Thames St. Call 410-732-4614 for more information. On Wednesday, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions Office of Cultural Affairs continues its "Designer Genes" film series with "Gattaca," Andrew Niccol's futuristic thriller set in a genetically altered society. Ethan Hawke plays a young man who fights perfection. The post-screening discussion will be led by Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber. The film will be shown Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the PCTB Mountcastle Auditorium, 725 N. Wolfe St., and is free and open to the public. Call 410-955-3363 for more information.

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