Billy Hayes Talks Turkey, MMJ and Oliver Stone's Piggy Midnight Express Speech

Midnight Return shows an emotional Billy Hayes raising the Turkish flag in New York City.EXPAND
Midnight Return shows an emotional Billy Hayes raising the Turkish flag in New York City.
Courtesy of Newport Beach Film Festival

UPDATE, APRIL 26, 9:06 A.M.: There will be a repeat screening of Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey at noon Wednesday at Fashion Island's Island Cinema, 999 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, the festival announced. Tickets are $15.

ORIGINAL POST, APRIL 25, 6:35 A.M.: Newport Beach Film Festival audience members got a treat after the screening of Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey Saturday afternoon, when the subject of that documentary as well as the brutal 1978 Alan Parker movie Midnight Express appeared to take questions.

The gripping documentary from director Sally Sussman chronicles then-23-year-old Hayes' Istanbul airport bust in October 1970 for trying to smuggle 4.4 pounds of hashish out of Turkey, the cautionary example that country and likely the Nixon administration made out of him, the reception/rejection that greeted Oliver Stone's first produced screenplay (and Oscar winner), the international reputation that followed/haunted Hayes for decades and the eventual reconciliation between a former prisoner and an entire nation.

The initial reaction to Midnight Express at the Cannes Film Festival plays a large part in Midnight Return, and Sussman disclosed from in front of the screen at the Triangle Cinemas in Costa Mesa that producers had just learned her documentary will roll at the 69th festival on the French Riviera next month.

Sussman, best known before her project as a television writer who won an Emmy with The Young and the Restless writing team,  was joined in front of the audience by Hayes, producer Anthony Morina and editor Sean H. Fanton. Responding to a question from the crowd, Sussman revealed there are ongoing talks to get the film played in Turkey, which for years had designated the escaped drug smuggler persona non grata. The damage done to the country by Midnight Express continues today, according to Turkish government officials, former diplomats and successful, Turkish born U.S. businessmen.

Hayes, a Long Islander with a rapid-fire delivery, shared with the audience how he managed to break free and what he thinks about the way Midnight Express filmmakers portrayed him, the Turkish people and the white tuxedo he wore at Cannes. Tacked on as a bonus are his thoughts on the legalization of marijuana.

The unexpected audience Q&A got so interesting, so quickly that I whipped out my iPhone to record what I could. If I'd known I would be recording something, I would have brought a better device, so I apologize for not being closer to the stage, my coughs sprinkled throughout and the horrible lighting, picture quality and especially sound volume. (It's best heard through earphones).

If you can tough it out, what Hayes had to say was very interesting.

Hitting the head after the movie, two guys standing at urinals near mine were still chatting about Hayes and whether they believed him as he seemed "sketchy." Hayes came off sincere and believable to me. See what you think in the video here as well as in Midnight Return when it shows up in theaters or streaming or both.

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