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Bitter brew

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For two years, the Duke City DocFest has screened some of the best international documentaries of the year – and this year is no different.

With more than 20 films screening over the five-day event, each film is aimed to open minds and start dialogue.

This year’s event starts with a famous case that was homegrown in the Duke City.

If you go
WHAT: Second Annual Duke City DocFest
WHEN: Festival begins Wednesday and runs through Oct. 16. “Hot Coffee” premieres 8:15 p.m. Wednesday as part of the opening night festivities
WHERE: KiMo Theatre, 423 W. Central
HOW MUCH: Tickets for opening night are $25. For more information on screening times and prices, visit or

Susan Saladoff’s “Hot Coffee” revisits Stella Liebeck’s case versus McDonald’s and will be screened during the festival’s opening night Wednesday.

In 1992, Liebeck, 79, got a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through on Gibson SE with her grandson. Her grandson pulled over and parked so she could add cream, and the cup spilled into Liebeck’s lap. She ended up in the hospital with third-degree burns and needed skin grafts.

She sought for McDonald’s to pay her $20,000 to cover her medical bills but

McDonald’s went to trial instead. In 1994, a federal court jury in Albuquerque awarded Liebeck $2.9 million – most of the money in punitive damages.

The case became fodder for the late-night comedy circuit, and Saladoff refers to the case as the “most infamous in the world.” With all the misconception out there, Saladoff was determined to tell the truth.

“Most people don’t understand that case and think it was her fault,” she says during a recent interview. “She wasn’t driving, in fact was parked in the lot. Then, you see the pictures of her burns and hear in testimony how hot the coffee was kept. There is so much more to the case than the average person knows.”

Saladoff practiced law for several years, and, in 2009, she took a year’s sabbatical from her practice to make the movie.

“I ended up going back for four months after the year was over, and I realized it was impossible to finish the movie,” she says. “I left my job and worked on the movie, and it’s starting to take off.”

“Hot Coffee” was accepted into this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and Saladoff has been touring the country supporting the film. She is scheduled to appear on “The Colbert Report” on Oct. 25.

This will be the first time the film is screened in Albuquerque.

“I’m looking forward to the audience learning all of the facts,” she says. “I get the opportunity to talk to a lot of groups, and they come out of the movie with a new outlook on the case. It’s going to be an interesting time to screen it in the city where the case stemmed from.”

When it came to editing the film, Saladoff did worry about making sure she was able to translate all of the legal jargon for an audience.

“I hired an editor (Cindy Lee) who didn’t have any legal experience,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be a film for lawyers, and I surrounded myself around people who didn’t know about law. I often asked the crew if they understood what I was saying.”

Saladoff says the DVD will be available for purchase on Nov. 1 and has set up an area on the movie’s website –– where people can learn more about what they can do politically for a change.

A story of compassion

Memphis, Tenn.-based filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox will appear at the Southwest Film Center in the Student Union Building on the University of New Mexico’s campus at 1 p.m. today. Fox will screen his documentary “This Is What Love in Action Looks Like” as part of the ninth annual Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. In the summer of 2005, 16-year-old Zach Stark wrote on his MySpace blog about his parents sending him to a “fundamentalist Christian” program that strives to turn gay teens straight. The documentary follows the story of the teen’s local community standing up for their friend with daily protests at the facility in what would become an international news story. For more information about the screening, visit