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clock Jan 10, 2006 3:51 pm US/Mountain

Utah Theater Balks At 'Brokeback Mountain'

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SALT LAKE CITY A movie theater owned by auto magnate and Utah Jazz and owner Larry Miller abruptly changed its screening plans Thursday, pulling a plan to show the film ``Brokeback Mountain'' on its screens.

The film, the R-rated Western gay romance story, was supposed to open Friday at the Megaplex at Jordan Commons in Sandy. Instead it was pulled from the schedule, disappointing many theatergoers. Late Thursday, the Newspaper Agency Corp., which handles advertising, production and printing for both Salt Lake City newspapers, was asked to remove show times for the film from its ads.

Calls to Miller and a spokesperson were not returned Friday. And Cal Gunderson, manager of the Jordan Commons Megaplex, was reached by phone but declined to comment.

But in an interview on public radio station that was taped Thursday and aired Friday, Miller told KCPW-FM reporter Jonathan Brown, said booking a movie like ``Brokeback Mountain'' was a business decision.

``It's something that I have to let the market speak to some degree,'' Miller told Brown. ``I don't think I'm qualified to be the community censor.''

Brown said Friday that Miller was unaware of the story line of ``Brokeback Mountain'' until Brown described it to him Thursday, less than two hours before the schedule change was announced.

On Friday, the official explanation at the theater was a message posted at the ticket window: ``There has been a change in booking and we will not be showing 'Brokeback Mountain.' We apologize for any inconvenience.''

The film, which stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, is about two cowboys who unexpectedly discover feelings for one another while on a job herding sheep in Wyoming. The two eventually marry women but return over the years to rekindle their relationship.

In a statement, the movie's distributor, Focus Features, said that hours before opening, the theater management ``reneged on their licensing agreement,'' and refused to open the film and called the decision a ``deplorable'' business practice.

Conservative groups lauded the apparent decision to not show the film, while others said it was a decision that would deny Utahns a chance to see a true work of art.

``I think it sets an example for all the people in Utah and, like I said before, he's my new hero,'' said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum. ``It's such a terrible show, and it is such a horrible message. I just think (pulling the show) tells the young people especially that maybe there is something wrong with this show.''

Advocates in Utah's gay and lesbian community expressed disappointment about the decision to pull the film, but Mike Thompson, executive director of the gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah, said he's not calling for a boycott of Miller's theaters.

``It's just a shame that such a beautiful and award-winning film with so much buzz about it is not being made available to a broad Utah audience because of personal bias,'' he said. ``It's just disappointing.''

The movie is scheduled at other theaters in Utah, including those managed by the Salt Lake Film Society, where executive director Tori Baker the film has drawn record earnings since it opened last week. Across the nation, 296 screens are showing the film. Utah ranked 12th last week with per-screen average earnings, said Baker.

(© 2006 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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