Pic highlights recent First Amendment cases while conveying the diverse sweep of our nation's free-speech battles.

Liz Garbus’ “Shouting Fire” highlights recent First Amendment cases while conveying the diverse sweep of our nation’s free-speech battles — which have only ratcheted up amid a Bush-era “New McCarthyism” valuing security above civil liberties. A fine example of education that’s entertaining, docu is tentatively slated for July HBO broadcast.

Garbus makes fond use of longtime crusading attorney/dad Martin as historical and ethical commentator. But the primary focus is on four cases from the last decade in which unpopular opinions were unduly suppressed, at least in the eyes of the ACLU and the helmer. When U. of Colorado professor Ward Churchill’s musings about U.S. political-economic imperialism as a partial 9/11 explanation were discovered by right-wing ideologues, he was swiftly fired (under different pretexts). Principal Debbie Almontaser was forced to resign from New York’s first bilingual Arabic-English public school after press distortions painted her a virtual terrorist sympathizer. Thousands were inappropriately restrained by police while peacefully protesting the 2004 Republican National Convention. That free speech isn’t always pretty or laudable is underlined by San Diego high schooler Chase Harper, suspended for wearing a “Homosexuality Is Shameful” T-shirt. Assembly is sharp.

Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech

Production

An HBO Documentary Films presentation of a Moxie Firecracker production. Produced by Liz Garbus, Rory Kennedy, Jed Rothstein. Executive producer, Sheila Nevins. Co-producer, Karen K. H. Sim. Directed by Liz Garbus.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Tom Hurwitz; editor, Karen K. H. Sim; music, Miriam Cutler. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema -- competing), Jan. 20, 2009. Running time: 74 MIN.

With

Martin Garbus, Ward Churchill, Debbie Almontaser, Chase Harper, Ruth Benn, Ed Hedemann.
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