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Strong opinions, salty language at ‘Whitey’ screening

From left: Moderator David Boeri of WBUR, forensic intelligence analyst Angela Clemente, victim’s relatives Patricia and Tommy Donahue, the Globe’s Kevin Cullen, filmmaker Joe Berlinger, journalist Dick Lehr, attorney J.W. Carney, prosecutor Brian Kelly at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

From left: Moderator David Boeri of WBUR, forensic intelligence analyst Angela Clemente, victim’s relatives Patricia and Tommy Donahue, the Globe’s Kevin Cullen, filmmaker Joe Berlinger, journalist Dick Lehr, attorney J.W. Carney, prosecutor Brian Kelly at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

If harsh reactions and catcalls are the measure of a movie, director Joe Berlinger’s “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” is a winner. The documentary chronicling the trial of South Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger was screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre the other night, and there were some strong opinions expressed by the audience and members of a post-screening panel that included prosecutor Brian Kelly, Bulger attorney J.W. Carney, victims’ families, and media figures who have spent a good part of their careers reporting the story. Particularly upsetting to some was what former Globe reporter Dick Lehr called the “false balance” presented by Berlinger: Was Whitey an FBI informant or wasn’t he? Lehr, who along with Gerry O’Neill wrote “Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal,” ridiculed the notion that Bulger might not have been an informant. (Lehr’s opinion was shared by the Globe’s Kevin Cullen, coauthor of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.”) When Carney responded that Whitey “wasn’t allowed to testify,” members of the crowd scoffed, yelling: “But he was!” and “He turned it down!” Shawn Donahue, the son of Bulger victim Michael Donahue, used a range of expletives to attack the government for giving immunity to witnesses/Bulger henchmen Kevin Weeks and John Martorano. And then there was Janet Uhlar, who served on the jury, and offered a loud rant about the mistreatment of jurors during the long trial. (Standing just behind Uhlar, Steve Davis, brother of Bulger victim Debbie Davis, muttered an expletive as he urged her to “Shut up.”) Still, reached afterward, Berlinger called the evening a great success. “The fact that it was extremely animated is good. All these people all have vested interests in this case,” said the director. “The fact that there was a wide range of opinions about what they saw on screen means I did my job.”

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