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Movie Partner Did Her Wrong, Woman Says

MILWAUKEE (CN) - The co-director of the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary "American Movie" claims her partner cheated her of credit for it - and hid millions of dollars of earnings from her.

Sarah Price and Bluemark Productions sued Chris Smith in Milwaukee County Court.

Price says she and Smith directed "American Movie," which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, but he never gave her full credit for it, nor for succeeding projects.

Price says she and Smith started Bluemark as a joint venture in 1996 and it went on to become a profitable umbrella company for a number of documentaries, feature films and commercials - including "American Movie."

Price says the deal was that they would be equal partners, though Smith was de facto president and CFO who controlled the finances and relegated Price to "silent partner" status.

Both are still members, but Price says she has not received her 10 percent share of the profits required by their operating agreement.

Price says they disagreed about credit issues since "American Movie" wrapped, forcing it to be credited as a "film by Chris Smith and Sarah Price" with the only director credit going to Smith.

After winning top prize at Sundance, Sony bought the film for $1 million and it was "a national and critical success," according to the complaint.

In 2004, "American Movie" was named as one of the "1,000 Greatest Movies Ever Made" and the International Documentary Association named it as one of the top 20 documentaries of all time.

Price says Smith took advantage of the lucrative opportunities that came his way as a result of his director credit and did them all through Bluemark without paying her a dime. She says he directed a "high profile advertising campaign for the European telecommunications giant Vodaphone," produced the movie "The Yes Men" and the TV show "Zero TV," and co-wrote and directed "The Pool," which won a Special Jury prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Price says, she was running Bluemark's day-to-day operations.

At one point, she says, Smith apologized, "telling her that his failure to give her a director credit on American Movie was wrong, and that he would therefore agree to help her direct commercials as well."

But Price says that when she "showed up to work on the campaign however, she was relegated to a 'girlfriend' role and never received the promised co-director credit, much less any future work that would follow from such a co-director credit."

Price says she didn't realize she was being duped until last year: "It was not until about the fall of 2010 that Ms. Price learned of Mr. Smith's wrongful and self-serving actions in regard to the finances of Bluemark and his usurpation of Bluemark's commercial advertising for his own commercial gain," the complaint states. "During a discussion with Mr. Smith's former commercial representative, Ms. Price was informed that Mr. Smith had hidden Bluemark's true earnings from her. For example, Ms. Price was informed that for the Vodaphone advertising campaign alone, Bluemark had made well over $1 million none of which was distributed to Ms. Price."

She claims that since 2000, Smith has distributed Bluemark's earnings only to himself, though she is a member of Bluemark.

Price seeks an accounting and punitive damages for fraud, conversion, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and misrepresentation, and proper credits for "American Movie."

She is represented by Jacob Miota and Grant Killoran.

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