'9500 Liberty'

YouTube series is now hitting bigger screens in feature form.

Having already stirred considerable attention as a YouTube series, even influencing the controversy it chronicles, “9500 Liberty” is now hitting bigger screens in feature form. This engrossing documentary traces ugly repercussions in northern Virginia when a resolution is passed requiring cops to question anyone they have “probable cause” to suspect of being an illegal alien, a la Arizona’s subsequent hot-button law. Vivid pulse-taking of current immigration debates is slowly booking urban arthouse screens. Broadcast berths will follow.

A building boom requiring cheap labor (since replaced by a foreclosure epidemic) sharply increased Prince William County’s Latino population, now about 20%. Conservative longtime residents eagerly jumped on a bandwagon driven by Greg Letiecq, president of illegal-immigration crackdown org Help Save Manassas. His popular blog features lurid descriptions of crimes — only those committed by Latinos — and at one point suggested the area was being invaded by armed revolutionary Zapatistas.

A piece of work, Letiecq (who grows less cooperative as the docu proceeds) dismisses pro-immigrant protestors as “pathetic,” scoffing, “Demonstrations are a tool of the fringe left and of the Third World. We don’t demonstrate; we write letters to the editor. We pass legislation.”

His crony, Corey Stewart, tries to enact a heightened police-search directive based on the notion that undocumented residents have resulted in “economic hardship and lawlessness.”

But in fact, overall crime has declined, and the resolution itself has a disastrous impact in already tough times. Latinos threatened with separation from individual family members, or stopped regularly for bogus reasons (e.g. “slightly bent license plate”), take their purchase power to friendlier businesses elsewhere or leave the area entirely, draining Prince William’s tax base.

Is there really a crisis of illegals here? White residents seem whipped up by fear rather than fact, their most verifiable complaints being simply about cultural differences — loud salsa music, “overcrowded” dwellings next door or the paralyzing horror of hearing Spanish spoken at the supermarket.

The vast majority of local Hispanics are naturalized citizens appalled by what an activist calls official “permission to treat people of color like dirt.”

Other significant voices of reason include two fed-up middle-class Caucasian moms, as well as police chief Charlie Deane — a much-loved figure who opposes the resolution because, for one thing, it could make his department a magnet for racial profiling lawsuits.

Vivid personalities, hot emotions and Machiavellian politics make “9500 Liberty” potent storytelling, albeit without much resolution. At times it seems an unnecessarily first-person documentary, particularly since helmer Annabel Park (whose co-director b.f., Eric Byler, lives in Prince William) provides a girlish, hesitant narrator voice that sounds younger than her years. General assembly is sturdy if unslick.

9500 Liberty

Production

An ID Alliance release of an Interactive Democracy Alliance production. Produced by Chris Rigopulos, Eric Byler, Annabel Park. Executive producer, Alex Rigopulos. Directed, written by Annabel Park, Eric Byler.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-Digibeta), Byler, Jeff Man; editor, Byler; music, Michael Brook, Cristian Bettler; associate producers, Jeff Man, Magda Liang Stafstrom, Chris McMorrow. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, June 3, 2010. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Greg Letiecq, Corey A. Stewart, Charlie T. Deane, Guadencio Fernandez, Alanna Almeda, Elena Schlossberg, Frank J. Principi, Martin E. Nohe.
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