Posted: 06/29/2009


HBO Heats Up Its Programming With Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge Of Free Speech


by Annie Vinton

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My Take: A must see - an eye opening look at The First Amendment in the post 9/11 era

HBO once again proves that its documentaries continue to remain provocative, honest and intelligent with tonight’s premier of Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech. This film hails from Oscar ® Nominee Liz Garbus, co-founder of Moxie Firecracker Films, Inc., an independent documentary production company, with fellow Brown University graduate and producer on this film, Rory Kennedy. Garbus also collaborates on this project with her father Martin Garbus who, according to Wikipedia has been widely revered by the media as being “America’s most prominent First Amendment lawyer” with an “extraordinarily diverse practice” and “one of the country’s top ten litigators.”

The foundation of this documentary is built on the strength of the words of the First Amendment repeated several times at the opening: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances…”

The film then boldly goes on to examine some of the intricacies of “free” speech in the United States in the post 9/11 era through some stories deemed controversial in the media: a New York City-based Arab-American educator who lost her job after explaining a word with controversial overtones; a college professor who wrote a both acclaimed and criticized essay raising questions in regards to America’s involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks; a high school student who broadcasted a biblical message on his T-shirt supporting his right wing views on homosexuality; and the over-restrained public protest at New York City’s Republic National Convention.

Garbus transforms what could have been a dry topic into an intriguing story supported by a captivating cast that includes every day people entrapped in a created media frenzy; lawyers and revered spokespeople; and celeverly selected video footage pulled from pop culture and news mediums over the decades. Directing and editing is no easy feat for any documentarian who has to rely on piecing together an unscripted account of events and Garbus along with editor and co-producer Karen K. H. Sim did this seamlessly. Credit is also due to cinematographer Tom Hurwitz and Miriam Cutler who’s original music lend to the flow of Garbus’ vision.

Shouting Fire will keep you glued to your seat and will leave an indelible question in your mind in regards to the hypocrisy and convenience of the translation of the First Amendment and the media’s responsibility of reporting the news versus making the news, and who is utlimately controlling this. It will also leave you sympathetic to some of these present day issues with the reminder of the impact of the evolution of technology (i.e. surveilance, wire taps, different mediums, etc.) on the First Amendment our founding fathers could not have predicted over two hundred years ago.

Shouting Fire is sure to garner some attention and no doubt instigate a few heated debates at the water cooler tomorrow morning.

Annie Vinton Annie Vinton is a freelance writer and film critic living in NYC. You can read more about her and her writing at

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