'Shouting Fire' in a crowded Sundance theater

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'Shouting Fire' in a crowded Sundance theater

Tue Jan 20, 2009 @ 11:07PM PST

By Matthew Belloni

Garbus We just returned from an action-packed trip to Sundance. Well, as action-packed as a weekend can get when you're sitting through 3-4 movies a day.

Between the all-night acquisition negotiations and the clients to be supported (and signed), there's definitely no shortage of lawyers along Main St. We bumped into Sundance staple John Sloss at JB Mulligan's on Friday night (before Sloss's Cinetic Media sold James Strouse's "The Winning Season" to Lionsgate). Akin Gump's John Burke and crew showed up to THR's party for Summit Entertainment's Patrick Wachsberger and Rob Friedman (Burke reps some of the money behind the minimajor). Linda Lichter graciously laughed at our jokes at the afterparty for her director client Marc Webb's excellent "500 Days of Summer," and superdealmaker Alan Wertheimer was nice enough to get us a beer at the HBO party.

The HBO fete also gave us a chance to track down the one lawyer who wasn't in Park City to develop business or slalom skills. Martin Garbus, the legendary First Amendment lawyer (he's been involved in everything from the Pentagon Papers case to the recent fracas over Don Imus's firing), is the subject of the new HBO documentary "Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech," directed by his daughter Liz Garbus.

We'll leave the reviews to the professional critics, but we saw the film on Saturday and found it a personal yet accessible look at recent skirmishes in the ongoing battle over First Amendment rights. Liz Garbus intercuts her father's story (he's the Jewish son of a Polish immigrant who once found himself defending the rights of Nazis to march in public) with the stories of people who have inadvertently ended up on the front lines in the post-9/11, post-Patriot Act landscape of political speech. Fired University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill makes an appearance, as does the California teen at the center of the debate over his right to wear an anti-gay T-shirt at his high school.

"It's probably not a coincidence," Martin Garbus joked when we asked him how the daughter of a noted free speech lawyer becomes a noted documentarian (Liz's first film, 1998's "The Farm: Angola," was nominated for an Oscar). He sat for hours of interviews for the film, then let Liz go to work piecing together a brisk oral history that stretches from Eugene Debs to McCarthyism to Debbie Almontaser, the Muslim-American woman forced to resign as principal of New York City’s first Arabic/English school after her comments were taken out of context by the New York Post. 

Lawyers probably won't learn much about First Amendment law from the film, but as with the most compelling cases, it's the personal stories that bring the narrative to life.

HBO will air "Shouting Fire" this summer.   


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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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