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First Amendment Film Is Father/Daughter First

252x190_shoutingfire06 Who better to narrate a documentary about the First Amendment than Martin Garbus? Garbus, after all, is a lawyer who has defended such outspoken figures as Nelson Mandela and Lenny Bruce. Fortune Magazine called him "one of the nation's premier First Amendment attorneys" and both Time and Business Week have called him "legendary" as a trial lawyer. But in selecting Garbus to narrate her documentary, "Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech," Oscar nominee Liz Garbus was not exactly objective. Martin, after all, is her father.

As Liz said this week to the U.S. News & World Report blog Washington Whispers, her own devotion to the First Amendment was instilled in utero. "From anyone else, [that] would be considered hyperbole," writes blogger Maura Judkis. "But freedom of speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly course through her veins because her father is Martin Garbus, a prominent First Amendment lawyer."

The documentary was screened in January at the Sundance Festival and makes its formal premiere on HBO June 29 at 9 p.m. ET. In the film, Liz Garbus explores the history of free speech in America and examines the balancing act between protecting civil liberties and national security, asking whether all speech is equally free. The film's guide through this perilous landscape is her father. Among the topics covered are his own work in helping to get the Pentagon Papers published and in defending the right of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill.

The film also considers the cases of:

  • Ward Churchill, a tenured University of Colorado professor who was fired after he wrote in a blog post that U.S. foreign policy abuses were partially to blame for the 9/11 attacks.
  • Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim-American woman who alleges she was the subject of a witch hunt and was forced to resign from her job as principal of New York City’s first dual-language Arabic/English school in part because she cited the literal definition of the word "Intifada" in a news interview.
  • Chase Harper, a San Diego high school student who was thrown out of school for wearing a t-shirt proclaiming "Homosexuality is Shameful" during a gay and lesbian awareness event.

"As a filmmaker, what I do is part of free speech," Liz Garbus told the Washington Whispers blog. "I always wanted to do something about the interesting worlds that I was able to see through my father's work." As for the elder Garbus, you can hear him discuss his thoughts on the First Amendment and hate speech in an interview last week on the podcast I co-host, Lawyer2Lawyer. Also see this report of a panel discussion about the film by the First Amendment Center.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 25, 2009 at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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