"I left Afghanistan with nothing"
M. J Leonard | Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA United States | 09/23/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Having first hand experience with the US immigration system, I found a lot to relate to in Chasing freedom. Not that I'm in America to chase "freedom" with my situation nothing like the Afghan woman who is at the center of this movie, but like her, I do know what it is like to be caught up in an ineffectual bureaucracy that can take years to make immigration decisions.
For a television film Chasing Freedom is surprisingly well made and well acted, and it's themes, in this post 9/11 world, remains startlingly relevant. How does the United States keep the integrity of it's borders intact and keep out people who seek to do harm to Americans, whilst also welcoming those honest immigrants, who come to seek asylum? It's a tough call, and as this film shows, there are no easy answers.
Meena, the central character in Chasing Freedom is probably emblematic of thousands of refugees from war-torn parts of the world, who come to America, and other developed countries such as Australia, England, and Canada. In most cases their situation is pretty grim, because without resources of money and education, and a good immigration lawyer, many are deported back to their home countries.
Meena (Lela Alizada) is persecuted by the Taliban for running a school for young girls in Afghanistan. She manages to escape and ends up in detention in New Jersey. Her case seems hopeless -she has no money, no proof of identity and she's up against a hostile system that seems more concerned with finding ways to deport asylum seekers than offering them safe haven.
Reluctant help arrives in the form of a pro bono attorney Libby (played by Juliette Lewis) who unenthusiastically and grudgingly takes on her asylum case. Libby is a highflying securities lawyer, and immigration asylum is a foreign world to her. But her boss insists that she do this and a desperate immigration lawyer Eric (Brian Markinson) pleads with her to help him.
Libby's reaction is probably typical of most Americans who nothing about this world; because it's a world that they rarely need to enter. The movie shows quite well how, the lawyers must struggle to cope and make their voices heard within a department that is under-funded, where prejudice against "foreigners" is rampant, and which is overwhelmed by the shear number of immigrants seeking asylum.
As Libby gradually grows in awareness and learns about Meena's horrifying torture and subsequent escape from captivity, she begins to take pity on the girl, and becomes ever more determined to fight for her. One of the best scenes is when she goes up against a rather nonchalant and over-worked immigration judge, who lambastes her for not being fully prepared.
Both Juliette Lewis and Lela Alizada are excellent in their roles, and it's interesting to watch Lewis as Libby transform from a self-obsessed, flustered, and moneyed securities lawyer into a more empathetic and compassionate person, who believes in fighting for human rights.
The film was inspired by a real asylum case handled by a team of dedicated pro bono attorneys from Debevoise and Plimpton and The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. It is a sobering depiction of the nearly insurmountable obstacles that asylum seekers face when they arrive in the U.S.
This film must see for anyone working with refugee communities, immigration law and ordinary Americans trying to make sense of the World Trade Center bombing and our subsequent response with the Patriots Act and Homeland Security. Mike Leonard September 05.
Tackling a Controversial Subject in Perilous Times - Success
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 09/20/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This taut and important film CHASING FREEDOM was apparently a made for television film in 2004. It is a shame it never made it into the theaters as it is a searing document about the problems of victims from foreign countries seeking asylum in the United States. The script by Barbara Samuels is a brave indictment against the Taliban's activities in Afghanistan as well as a penetrating examination of US bureaucratic bungling in dealing with those who get caught up in the quagmire of red tape in trying to find an escape hatch from their homeland cruelty. It is an honest look at a problem, unbiased, where none of the parties are blameless.
A member of a high profile New York law firm, Libby (Juliette Lewis) is told by her boss that despite her overtaxed workload as a securities lawyer she must by contract take on some pro bono work (as much to make her boss look good as to keep a law firm's reputation spotless). Libby begrudgingly takes on a pro bono case in the department closest to her office - the INS where kind and desperate Eric (Brian Markinson) pleads with her to represent a woman seeking asylum. Libby has a negative attitude toward the process, as much because she knows nothing about asylum cases in law as the fact that she is doing this under duress. Eric introduces her to her client Meena (Layla Alizada) who has fled Afghanistan to escape death because she dared to teach children in Kabul despite the Taliban's condemnation of schools. Gradually the harden Libby discovers the life story of Meena and softens to her cause, devoting herself to achieving the impossible - obtaining asylum for a woman who has no proof of identity and is 'detained' in a brusque INS center like a prisoner.
Though Meena arrived in the US in 2000, by the time her case is extended it is 2001 - and 9/11 has happened, an incident that placed Afghanistan in a bad light. The manner in which Libby works with Meena to gain her flight to freedom is a well-paced, gripping, startling tale - and this is based on a true story.
Juliette Lewis again demonstrates the scope of her talent by convincingly transforming the hard, workaholic lawyer into the compassionate believer in human rights and she is able to make this character development with being cloying or stereotyped. It is a fine performance in a role not of the usual Lewis type. Equally excellent is Layla Alizada, wholly believable as a woman who has endured atrocities only to enter a land that seems cold to her plea for asylum. The two actresses make a fine team. The remainder of the cast is superb and the direction by Don McBrearty is on target. There is a hauntingly beautiful music score by Jonathan Goldsmith the weaves Middle Eastern and Western music into a lush, additive and atmospheric score. This film deserves attention, especially today when our borders are even more blockaded. It is wise to remember the individuals caught up in the problem of seeking asylum. Grady Harp, September 05"
Riveting and gut wrenching
Sonny L | New Mexico | 11/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This was a very good movie. It was well acted and well scripted. Based on the true story of an Afghan refugee, it shows three different worlds. It touches on the upscale world of a self absorbed lawyer who is forced by her boss to do a pro bono case. It shows the brutal world of Afghanistan under the Taliban. It shows the stark lonely world of incarcerated un-papered (no identification, family, etc) refugees seeking asylum, and how hard that is to get. As our lady lawyer gets to know our refugee, the story of what happened and why she had to escape unfolds. Into the middle of the story falls September 11, and its repercussions on her case, and on asylum in general. The story is gripping from start to finish, and left me feeling I had seen a brief glimpse through a window into another world. One in our own country's immigrant prisons, and all the untold stories of human suffering to be found there."