Special Presentation: Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Berman’s doc is no Valentine

• Writer/director: Brigitte Berman
• Producers: Victor Solnicki, Peter Raymont
• Production companies: Metaphor Films Production,
White Pine Pictures
• Featuring: Hugh Hefner, Susan Brownmiller, Joan Baez, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory
• Distributor: None
• Broadcasters: The Movie Network, Movie Central
• International sales: Aver Media

Hugh Hefner’s image in the public mind is practically indelible. He’s the aging Lothario of the Playboy empire, an enterprise built on Bunnies, booze and the hedonistic lifestyle of the ’60s. Yet Oscar-winning Canadian filmmaker Brigitte Berman begs to differ. If she has her way, the new feature doc Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel will change the public’s view of the man.

‘There are the girls and the parties,’ says Berman. ‘That’s one side of Hefner. No question. But there’s a part of his story that has never been told. He’s a progressive who fought for civil rights, broke the blacklist and publicly opposed the Vietnam War.’

It first occurred to Berman to make a film about Hefner after she attended his 80th birthday party in 2006. She has known him since the early ’80s when he wrote to her to ask for a copy of her first feature, Bix, a doc about Hef’s favorite jazz musician, Bix Beiderbecke. A huge jazz fan, Hefner also is a big supporter of Berman’s 1987 Oscar-winning doc Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got, about the Swing-era clarinet virtuoso.

‘When I decided to make a film about Hef’s serious side – because the Bunnies and boobs and the blondes have been done to death – I sent him a lengthy treatment,’ she recalls. ‘He sent me a fax the day after he received it, saying that he loved it. Hef gave me the freedom and control to make a serious film about him – not a Valentine.’

Among the people Berman interviewed were right-wing singer Pat Boone and feminist Susan Brownmiller. ‘I really love Brownmiller’s frankness,’ says Berman. ‘To her, Hef is still the enemy. She’s quite intelligent – and that’s who I wanted – people to speak about him intelligently from both sides. I didn’t want yellow journalism.’

To his credit, Hefner made sure all of the Playboy Clubs were integrated and had ‘blacks and whites commingling on his TV show Playboy’s Penthouse in the late ’50s – when this was unheard of – because he knew it was the right thing to do.’

Asked about her own assessment of Hefner, Berman replies: ‘I see his life as an amalgamation of conflicts – many quite bitter. His big triumph is that he stayed true to himself.’