Sobering Yet Entertaining--Show It to Your Friends
Tom N. Emswiler | Champaign, IL | 08/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The First Amendment Project is the product of a joint project between the Sundance Channel and Court TV. In spite this being a rather strange union, the end product is excellent. It consists of three short (23 minutes each) videos by different, well-known directors dealing with various aspects of threats to the First Amendment here in the USA. The three videos are:
1. Fox v Franken--This is the most entertaining of the three. Franken simply tells of Fox News suing him over his use of the term "Fair and Balanced" on the cover of his book LIES AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM. Fox claimed that he was violating what they considered their "trade-mark" term "fair and balanced." Not much of a case here but the film makers have fun taking us to TV shows where Franken and O'Riley, who was especially angry over the book, were interviewed. The judge for the case also shares his own very frank observations on the case and Franken's lawyer can't help but smirk over the ease of defending Franken in this case. This is only indirectly a First Amendment case. Does a big corporation like Fox have the right to suppress a book which satirizes them in ways that they think are unfair? The case was really framed as a trade-mark law case. But the larger issue of free speech is behind it.
2. Poetic License also deals with the right of free speech. In this case does the controversial poet Amiri Baraka have the right to perform what is a deeply disturbing poem about 9/11 when he is the poet laureate of New Jersey and therefore a kind of public representative of the state? The poem argues that the real terrorists are here in the USA and they include a lot of really prominent people. The poem is quite long and we do not hear it in its entirety in the video itself. The entire poem as performed most movingly by Amiri Baraka is included in the DVD features, however, and it is well worth listening to. This film ably raises questions about how far an artist can offend the majority and still be protected by our first amendment.
3. Some Assembly Required deals with the right of assembly which is also a part of our First Amendment. It does this by showing the strong armed tactics of the New York City police used against the massive political demonstrations during the 2004 Republican National Convention. The filmmaker chooses some interesting protestors to focus on including a church organist from a quite conservative background.
All three of these films are certainly worth seeing and talking about with others. We need this kind of creative documentary work to keep us a free people."