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ACLU at Sundance: A Preview

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January 23, 2008

This year's Sundance Film Festival has an impressive line-up of both documentary and fictional films that tell important stories about civil liberties. Here's what I'm looking forward to seeing:

  • "Secrecy", a documentary about national security policy and the implications of secrecy both for government and individuals
  • "In Prison My Whole Life," the story of famed prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and a critique of the judicial system, the death penalty and racism in the U.S.
  • "Towelhead," Alan Ball's fictional film that explores anti-Arab sentiment after 9/11
  • "Visitor," Tom McCarthy's film that explores illegal immigration and the use of immigrant detention centers
  • "Trouble the Water," which follows two Hurricane Katrina survivors as they rebuild their lives and career after the storm.
  • "The Black List," a series of mini-portraits of 20 influential African-Americans.

Also on the schedule this year is a panel discussion exploring issues of human rights in film. Last Friday Variety gave a preview of the documentaries that will be shown this year.

National security issues were popular in 2007. Last year Rory Kennedy's award-winning documentary, "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," which confronts the Iraq War and the Bush administration's use of torture at the notorious Iraqi prison, premiered at Sundance. Director Gavin Hood's film "Rendition" dealt with the practice of extraordinary rendition, a practice the ACLU has been challenging through litigating of two cases. Last week the NYCLU hosted a screening of director Alex Gibney's documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side," which tells the story of an Afghani taxi driver captured and murdered by U.S. forces in Bagram prison. "Taxi" was just nominated for an Oscar in the "Best Documentary" category.

Last year the documentary "The Trials of Darryl Hunt" examined the deeply flawed criminal justice system in North Carolina that put Hunt, a man wrongly convicted of rape and murder, behind bars for 20 years.

I'll be blogging throughout the next few days as I see these films and report more about the stories these films and filmmakers hope to tell, how the audiences are receiving them, and what the conversation are like when audiences leave the theaters.

We're also continuing our orange ribbon campaign here at Sundance this year, and our Utah affiliate will be helping out with volunteers handing out ribbons and literature about the our efforts to Close Guantanamo and end torture, indefinite detention, rendition and other abuses of power. They'll be stationed outside many of these screenings on Thursday and Friday.

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