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MPTF: What Country Is This?

On April 27 I had an unusual experience while quietly shooting a tour of the Motion Picture Home with members of our “Saving the Lives” group and two guests, including actor Elliott Gould. After shooting Mr. Gould walking through the halls and greeting smiling residents who were delighted to see him on campus, two MPTF […]

On April 27 I had an unusual experience while quietly shooting a tour of the Motion Picture Home with members of our “Saving the Lives” group and two guests, including actor Elliott Gould.

After shooting Mr. Gould walking through the halls and greeting smiling residents who were delighted to see him on campus, two MPTF security guards stopped us as we walked through the cottages on our way to the Saban Center. The guards told me they knew I had been shooting on campus and insisted that I would have to put my camera back in my car immediately.

I told them I wouldn’t shoot any more. That wasn’t good enough. The camera had to go back in my car.

I’ve been capturing documentary footage for more than a decade in all kinds of environments. There were only two places where my shooting had been controlled or restricted — the border of North Korea and in Vietnam. What country are we living in?

Amazingly the Motion Picture Home joins the company of two infamous Communist countries in its efforts to control the flow of information within its boundaries. This should be a cause of great concern for all of us. The long-term care and hospital unit closures will directly affect hundreds of people today and many thousands in the years ahead.

If the MPTF is so confident and so certain about its chosen course, why would it be so concerned about groups like ours trying to offer alternative points of view? Why does management refuse interviews with working press? Why have they hired a crisis-management public-relations firm?

All is not well within the plush offices of MPTF management.

After I put my camera safely in the car, I grabbed my computer bag and started to re-enter the hospital in order to find the group and rejoin the tour. The guard who had followed me to my car stopped me and demanded to search my computer bag, presumably to check for small cameras or other information gathering technology.

I am a very law-abiding person. I support civil authority. I give regularly to police auxiliary groups. I had nothing to hide in my bag, but I told the guard that a search of my bag wasn’t going to happen under any circumstances.

Two female social workers approached me at that point with emotionally detached smiles on their faces. They knew where I was. They told me that camera restrictions were for the safety and security of residents. I told them, with no smile on my face, that I was also interested in the safety and security of the residents as well.

The difference is that I, like many others, want long-term care residents to stay in their on-campus homes while the MPTF wants them all to go away with as little objection or review as possible. Residents had no problem with the camera capturing Elliott Gould’s warm-hearted visit. MPTF social workers were clearly troubled by their happy faces.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The social workers disregarded my concerns, insisting that I was a potential security risk to the residents. They wrote down my name and the name of my mother-in-law. Then a security supervisor, a gentlemen who clearly likes to project his command authority, put his shoulders back and sucked in his stomach while telling me with considerable pleasure that I could not rejoin my tour group and that I could only be on campus if I was in the presence of my relative.

Then I smiled. “Are you guys making up new rules on the fly now?”  I have been moving freely around the campus for over three years with no restrictions. I have enjoyed the picture-lined halls alone, strolled the gardens on my own, and more recently toured the pristine and largely unused Saban Center. I had walked everywhere. There had never been any questions of “where’s your relative?” in all that time.

Clearly this was a punitive response to my camera and my unwillingness to submit to a search of my computer bag.

The Motion Picture Home is becoming a health-care lockdown rather than a safe and welcoming haven for retired industry workers and their families. I chose to visit my mother-in-law rather than being forced off campus.

As I stepped through the sliding glass doors I heard the security supervisor bark at one of his guards, “Stick with him”.  Are they kidding?  Was this MPTF Five-0?  I was waiting for “book’em, Darren,” referring to my MPTF security tail, Darren Chavez. I’ve dealt with Darren before. He’s a polite guy who is just doing what he’s told to do. Darren’s security supervisor, on the other hand, seems to be a man who enjoys confrontation.

While Darren followed me down the hall to 1 West, he stayed at a discreet distance while I visited quietly with my mother-in-law. In the back of my mind I honestly wondered if security guards were writing down the license number of my car or maybe arranging to slash my tires at some point when I was off the campus. It sounds paranoid, but that’s the atmosphere that’s being created.

At the same time other guards searched out and removed Elliott Gould and the rest of our group as they prepared to enter the Saban Center — presumably because they didn’t have a patient on hand to validate their presence there.

The fact is the MPTF is pushing back hard against dissent. This isn’t an atmosphere we should be experiencing anywhere at the Motion Picture Home. And it’s all because a number of long-term care resident families have chosen not to accept the abandonment of the MPTF’s 88-year old mission to care for the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

Thirty-minutes later, as I walked to the exit, another guard was behind me, apparently to ensure I didn’t pull some secret camera out of my bag. I got the message. They got my name and my mother-in-law’s name. They know where she lives. They know where I live. I won’t take my camera into the long-term care unit again. I don’t want to put my mother-in-law, other residents or their families at risk.

We’ll have to find different ways of getting information out of the home. As you can imagine. my anxiety over MPTF intimidation tactics has risen significantly. MPTF management is sending a message. They are in charge. They are in control. They have eyes everywhere and they are watching all of us. There is no room for disagreement or dissent at the MPTF — it was just like being back in North Korea and Vietnam. 

What country are we living in?

Dean Butler is a producer of documentary content for broadcast, internet and DVD distribution. He is also an actor, best known for his work on the classic family drama, "Little House on the Prairie." His mother-in-law is a resident of the long-term care unit at the Motion Picture Home.