Q&A: 'Shouting Fire' director Liz Garbus

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Q&A: 'Shouting Fire' director Liz Garbus

Fri Jun 26, 2009 @ 06:22PM PST

By Eriq Gardner


Garbus,liz On Monday, HBO will premiere "Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech," a documentary that takes a critical look at attacks on free expression post-9/11. The film is directed by Liz Garbus, daughter of well-known First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus, who also appears in the film. We spoke to Liz about the genesis of this project, the uniquely personal way she explores these complex legal issues, and why she's looking forward to debating Bill O'Reilly.

THR, Esq.: So how did "Shouting Fire" get started?
Garbus: Credit goes to Shiela Nevins at HBO. When things are so close to you, you don't realize it's something you should do. At the time, my father was representing (Don) Imus, and his case brought up a lot of questions about the boundaries on the things we say. Sheila asked whether I'd be interested in taking a look at the state of free speech post-9/11, which I thought was a great idea.

THR, Esq: What's the big take-away for anybody who watches "Shouting Fire"
Garbus: In this country, free speech is taken for granted. Take a look at Iran today and see how important free speech is, and you learn that this is something you have to fight to protect. 

THR, Esq: Free speech is a right and a freedom, but those who express themselves bear some responsibility for what they say, correct? 
Garbus: Of course, language that is an incitement to violence raises some interesting issues. Some questions are tough, like the Internet radio host involved in a fascinating case where he posted the names of three judges and said that blood deserved to be spilled. But for the most part, free speech is protected, and if there is something that's offensive you don't like, you need to fight it with more speech. I think of (fired Colorado professor) Ward Churchill's fight for his job. They fired him for academic misconduct, but it seems more likely it was a retaliation for some of the things he wrote.

THR, Esq: Will you be debating Bill O'Reilly on this one?
Garbus: There will be a decision on whether or not he gets his job back right after this documentary comes out. I expect that Bill O'Reilly will be paying attention.

THR, Esq: The documentary starts out in the first-person and your father is prominently featured. Is this a personal document as much as a thesis on the state of free speech?Garbus: It's personal because we can't ignore the relationship. It's the elephant in the room, but this isn't first-person filmmaking in the way that people narrate their own story. We tried to strike a balance. Different eras ask for different ways of responding to social issues. In the 70s, a lot of people became lawyers like my father. This was my tool of expression.

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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 Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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