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Stop the Presses: Looks good on paper but better on the big-screen

No longer on hold: Filmmakers Mark Birnbaum, Andy Streitfeld, Manny Mendoza at world premiere of Stop the Presses. Photos: Ed Bark

Someday their prints would come.

More than 18 months in the making, Stop the Presses: The American Newspaper In Peril at last hit its first big deadline Wednesday with a world premiere at the ongoing AFI Dallas Film Festival.

Its proud parents, Mark Birnbaum, Manny Mendoza and Andy Streitfeld, met the press and friends at a pre-party before their 80-minute documentary played to a sold-out crowd across the street at the Magnolia.

Initially envisioned as a telescoped look at the Sept. 2006 buyouts that sent 110 Dallas Morning News staffers packing, Stop the Presses has emerged as an effective cautionary tale of national scope.

Its first words are from former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and its last from fake newspaperman Humphrey Bogart in the 1952 film Deadline USA.

"That's the press, baby, the press," he tells an inquiring mob boss over the phone as newspapers roll into print with a hard-hitting investigation. "There's nothing you can do about it. Nothing."

Birnbaum, a veteran filmmaker, and Mendoza, formerly an entertainment reporter/critic for the DMN, did more than 100 interviews for their doc. Paying the freight was Streitfeld's Dallas-based AMS Productions, which invested between $75,000 and $100,000 in the film besides post-production costs, he said.

Besides Bradlee, prominent interview subjects include humorist Dave Barry, actor Ed Asner of Lou Grant fame, media writer Ken Auletta and former Dallas mayor Laura Miller, who says that rebels such as herself were seldom tolerated for long at the DMN, where she used to be a reporter.

No executives from the local daily or from its parent corporation, Belo, agreed to be interviewed for the film. But its evolvement onto a mostly national stage pretty much made them extraneous anyway.

Keep your eye on the cake -- or not.

Yours truly made the final cut as an opinionated old cuss who was interviewed just a few days after unclebarky.com revved up on Sept. 17, 2006. Let's just say that emotions were still running high.

Former DMN colleague and still good friend Michael Precker also holds forth from his hard-won post at The Lodge gentleman's club. He's more conciliatory and good-humored about life after newspapering.

Stop the Presses got a deservedly strong reception from the audience and still is looking for a spot on network television. The time has passed for possible inclusion in the new P.O.V. season on PBS. But Mendoza said during a post-screening Q&A that the film is still "under consideration" for public television's Independent Lens series. A DVD also is coming.

Mendoza and Birnbaum will be the guests on the next Uncle Barky Show (4 p.m. on April 12th at Stratos restaurant). You shouldn't miss it, and you can't miss the accompanying banner ads on each unclebarky.com page. Birnbaum is assembling a sizable collection of never-before-seen Stop the Presses outtakes, many of them featuring DMN staffers. An interview will follow, including questions from the audience.

As always, a $500 donation will be made to the guests' designated charity. Great Greek food and drink specials also are part of the program.