Was Lisa Gier King-a stripper and former prostitute-raped by a Delta Chi pledge at the University of Florida frat house, or did the sex simply get a little rough?
Billy Corbin and Alfred Spellman, both 23, will once more raise that question to a college audience on Thursday at 8 p.m. at Cosford Cinema when they showcase ‘Raw Deal. A Question of Consent,’ a documentary about the story the filmmakers claim police and the State Attorneys office didn’t thoroughly investigate.
A couple of weeks into the 2000 spring semester, the UM film majors packed their bags and headed to Gainesville with their trunk loaded with camera equipment and their mind set on getting the facts straight.
“Quite simply, it’s a great story,” Corben said, explaining why he and his best friend from high school decided to take a leave of absence from UM in order to make the 99-minute digital documentary.
On the morning of Feb. 27, 1999, an otherwise mundane Saturday morning at Florida’s largest college town was rocked by allegations of a distraught woman who told police she had been raped by Delta Chi pledge Michael Yahraus after a fraternity house party.
When cops questioned fraternity members, they were handed a piece of evidence that seemed to counter King’s accusations: raw footage of King and Yahraus having sex and footage of the events that followed, which were shot by a pledge member during the ill-fated party.
After viewing the tape, officers arrested King for filing a false police report, claiming the sex looked consensual.
King disagreed, as did the campus chapter of the National Organization for Women, sparking a dispute over the gray line between consensual sex and rape.
The argument shifted to the courts, and the infamous tape became public record – a move welcomed by media outlets and blasted the case to a national audience.
Tabloid TV-shows took on the story superficially because the images were too incendiary to air uncensored, and none of the parties involved wanted to comment at the time.
Getting sources to talk was not easy for the young filmmakers, who tackled the case after the initial layer of fog had lifted.
Although Corbin and Spellman were able to speak to King, Yahraus declined to comment, as did Rod Smith, the State Attorney at the time of the case.
However, Anthony Marzullo, the fraternity’s pledge master -also caught naked on tape- provided his recollection of the evening’s events.
In a matter of four months, the documentary was ready for its first screening at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was torn apart by a handful of outraged critics that deemed it pornographic, and praised by others who saw it as a groundbreaking piece of reporting.
“People enter the film with a lot of personal baggage,” said Spellman. “It really polarizes audiences,” he added , alluding to the dozens of Q&A sessions after each viewing – many of which run longer than the documentary itself.
One interesting response came from King herself, who told a New York Post reporter at Sundance: “They did a better job of investigating this than the police.”
Another peculiar reaction that caught the film’s creators by surprise was laughter from an audience member at the most graphic point of the film during the first screening of Raw Deal at the Miami Film Festival earlier this year.
“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Corbin said. “Pretty much all responses have been visceral.”
That factor makes Corbin wish he could hold a Q&A session after every screening, an impossibility considering Raw Deal will go mainstream this summer.
In light of their success, reporters often ask the pair if they plan to move their base to bigger film hubs, like Los Angeles or New York.
Their answer is no. Newly established Spellman and Corbin Productions will stay in their Biscayne Bay offices, where the producers will split their time between five new projects -including a pilot for a television series titled Stiltsville- and home-work.
Corbin is nine credits shy of earning a triple-major undergraduate degree in film, theater and political science at UM.
Spellman has one semester left before he becomes a college grad.
So, how does Corbin feel about returning to school after such a hectic leave of absence?
“Mom’s happy, that’s for sure.”