Saturday, July 31, 2010
Movie review: 9500 Liberty
The politics of fear-mongering knows no boundaries: Arizona, meet Prince William County, Virginia. (And a nod to Farmers Branch.)
Filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler present 9500 Liberty, which documents the efforts of a group of county commissioners in Manassas/Prince William County, Virginia to get rid of the undocumented aliens living (and working) in their community.
In many ways the film can be seen as a 2007 precursor to events (and consequences) in Arizona, as the county ordinance in question mandates that sheriff's department patrol officers work on the basis of "probable cause" when questioning civilians about their legal residency status.
(In less-direct fashion, the events chronicled in the film reflect the situation in Farmers Branch, Texas, where the problem of illegal immigration was attacked by means of requiring renters to check the documentation of those wishing to take up residence in properties under their purview.)
It becomes clear during the 81-minute presentation that the push to rid the Northern Virginia community of undocumented/illegal aliens (choose your nomenclature poison) began with a small group of local ideologues, including an activist blogger named Greg Letiecq. Their efforts were supported -- we later discover -- by the national organization FAIR.
In filming the burgeoning tide of fear and the (mostly closeted) dissension that manifests itself in the community leading up to the council vote -- and, afterwards, during efforts to variously enforce and overturn it -- filmmakers Park and Byler themselves become the focus of media attention: Their YouTube posts begin to attract an international audience, and they are sought out as interview subjects.
It's difficult to watch this film without getting mad, regardless of which side of the anti-immigration fence one comes down on; it's easy to see why this issue continues to be a hot-button topic wherever it arises. Just as there are valid arguments stemming from both ideological camps, there are likewise no straightforward solutions to the core problem. Legalize those illegals already here? Deport them all? Push them out of one's immediate vicinity? Build better border fences? One has to speculate that President Obama has strong masochistic tendencies in choosing to address this particular policy territory so soon after his knock-down, drag-out with Congress over health care reform.
When the economic impacts and potential federal legal ramifications of the Prince William County ordinance begin to have negative and distracting effects on the local economy, those originally too scared to speak up risk the enmity of their neighbors by coming out in opposition. As someone puts it: It's a test of character.
9500 Liberty is currently playing at the Angelika Dallas, after having screened at the Asian Film Festival earlier this week.
Oh, by the way: The title of the film refers to the address of an Hispanic American-owned property in town, where hand-painted signs in opposition to the council's legislative efforts are posted. The place becomes a rallying point for those sympathetic to the immigrants' cause.
I.E., THOSE WITHOUT ACCESS TO THE INTERNET?: "Demonstrations are a tool of fringe groups and the Third World." - Greg Letiecq