Bill Hogan & “Battle for Free Speech”

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Bill Hogan has been an inspiration to the film industry in Chicago for decades. When I first met him, I was impressed by how devoted he was to fostering the growth of the film industry in our city. As an actress at that time, I thought how wonderful it would be if the industry could film here. Bill Hogan made it happen! A documentary of Bill’s experiences in the movie industry is now being filmed in Chicago. It will cover the highlights of his career and the nightmares as well.

Foreword by Irene Michaels

Former Chicago Teamster leader Bill Hogan, who played a key role in bringing major film productions to Chicago, is currently the subject of a documentary, A Battle for Free Speech, about the ongoing battle he fought against federal government control of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Veteran actor and comedian Jim Belushi, who worked with Hogan on four Chicago film productions (Thief and About Last Night) and is familiar with his ordeal, will be narrating the documentary that traces how Hogan’s criticisms of the all-powerful Independent Review Board, an embedded watchdog under the Justice Department, carried out an apparent vendetta that targeted Hogan, his family, and supporters in the Union for his criticisms.

“Without Bill Hogan, there wouldn’t be a Chicago film industry,” says Lucy Salenger, former head of the Illinois Film Office, who says Hogan played an important role in the efforts to convince studios that Chicago would be a good location. The first Mayor Daley had discouraged Hollywood from making films here, fearing that films would hurt the city’s image. Studios and producers were also wary of the power of local unions. To counter these misperceptions, Hogan, a second-generation Teamster who headed Local 714, founded by his father, joined with then-Governor James Thompson, Salenger, and her successor Suzy Kellett on visits to Los Angeles to let studios and producers know Chicago had a wealth of technical capability in skilled trade technicians as well as local acting talent.

Most importantly, Hogan negotiated flexible work agreements that removed impediments to film productions and expanded work opportunities for Teamster members. In the 80s and 90s, Chicago became a sought after location for films like The Fugitive, The Untouchables, Mad Dog and Glory, Risky Business, When Harry Met Sally and The Color of Money. After 2000, notable blockbusters Batman Begins and The Dark Knight brought substantial revenue to the city, but in 2002, Hogan was expelled for life from the union he represented in a highly controversial action by the Independent Review Board which critics say tramples on both free speech and due process of the union’s 1.4 million members.

Four of Bill Hogan’s longtime friends in the union were also expelled for life, simply for speaking to Bill. Thereafter the IRB had Hogan charged with criminal contempt for speaking to his friends and he faced a possible six-month sentence.

I decided to produce this film, because I had spent the last 12 years working on cases of wrongful justice, and I realized what happened to Bill Hogan could happen to anyone. The film will show the RICO statute was used by then-US Attorney Rudy Giuliani as a legal shortcut to take control of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters against the warnings of 264 members of Congress who wrote a letter to the Justice Department opposing their plans. The abuses that followed were predictable.

It seems almost hard to believe, given our constitutional protections, that a person could face jail for speaking to his long-time friends. When Hogan was fighting his legal battle, a number of prominent citizens of Chicago and the film industry joined a Free Speech for Bill Hogan Committee including Lucy Salenger, Jim Belushi, Jerry Roper, head of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Arny Granat of Jam Productions, Richard Dent, Chicago Bears Hall of Fame lineman and civil liberties activists Nat Hentoff and Christie Hefner, former CEO of Playboy Enterprises. The Justice Department eventually dropped the charges against Hogan, but Hogan still can’t speak to old friends in the Teamster Union and 1.4 million union members are still denied free speech and due process.

The crew producing the film will include Chicago documentary veterans Dana Kupper, an award-winning cinematographer, and producer/sound recordist Zak Piper, who recently worked on Life Itself, the documentary for Kartemquin Films about the late film critic Roger Ebert.

Those who wish to support this project or learn more can log onto A Battle for Free Speech on the crowdfunding site


About Irene Michaels

Over the past 25 years I have taken on the roles of a producer, publisher, insider journalist and fundraiser. My artistic interests began early in my teens working as a model and a dancer throughout the U.S. I formed my first modeling agency before I was twenty. While modeling I secured a re-occurring role in the popular daytime TV series General Hospital. Read more...