Documentary '9500 Liberty' is a Timely Must-Watch

September 8, 2010

I recently watched 9500 Liberty, Annabel Park and Eric Byler's film about immigration. I was floored. I'd heard about this film for years. The filmmakers posted segments of their footage on YouTube on the 9500Liberty channel as they were completing the full length doc. All of this -- the creative use of technology and the actual footage of the immigration debate -- garnered a lot of attention, tons of comments on YouTube, and articles in the Washington Post

The film is now out on DVD (which you can purchase here -- look for our review of it in the next issue of Hyphen) and is being shown at upcoming community screenings. I also learned from Angry Asian Man that MTV is playing the film on some of its channels on Sunday, September 26th as part of Hispanic Heritage Month -- which has a potential reach of 100 million homes! 

Sometimes I watch films that are good, entertaining or have a lot of educational value, but rarely would I wholeheartedly recommend a film to just about anyone. This is one of them. From the film's website:

     Prince William County, Virginia, becomes ground zero in America's explosive battle of immigration policy when elected officials adopt a law requiring police officers to question anyone they have "probably cause" to suspect is an undocumented immigrant. 

9500 Liberty reveals the startling vulnerability of a local government, targeted by national anti-immigration networks using the Internet to frighten and intimidate lawmakers and citizens.

The filmmakers capture tedious city council meetings that dragged on for hours and hours, with, I'm sure, hundreds of citizens commenting on the matter. They interview all sorts of people from Prince William County, from a conservative blogger named "Black Velvet Bruce Li" to immigrant families to the county police chief. (They, the filmmakers, end up being involved in the whole thing too. And my favorite: the moms-turned-bloggers). And, they seem earnest in their pursuit to understand everyone's points of view. (Byler is the maker of Charlotte Sometimes and Americanese. Park and Byler also co-founded Coffee Party USA, an alternative to the Tea Party).

Watching the film in its totality, you realize by the end of the film that the story ain't over. The debate and brief, but devastating, implementation of the law in Prince William County -- circa 2007 -- is similar to Arizona's SB 1070. And President Obama recently signed into law a $600 million border bill that would include an in increase border agents by 1,500 (to fund this effort, lawmakers are proposing a hefty increase in visa fees of oversees high-tech temporary workers from Indian companies). Critics of the bill, from organizations like the National Network for Immigration and Refugee Rights (NNIRR), say that this only ensures more migrant border deaths. According to the group, thousands of migrants have died along the border since 1994. According to The Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, based in Tuscon, Arizona, 214 migrant bodies have been found along the Arizona/Mexico border this year alone. People are being deported and families are being torn apart as I write this.

Park and Byler's film is important because it addresses a current issue that has a huge impact not only on towns, counties, states and the entire country -- but shows that this type of division is a test of what our country is really about, what we stand for and what our values are. It's weird -- I'm not one for hoity-toity patriotism, but the film kind of leaves you thinking about the United States of America. In the end, it boils down to our basic values of justice, equality and human and civil rights for everyone.

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We've had several reviews of 9500 Liberty on our blog; one by Harry Mok and another by Alvin Lin. Here's a profile on Eric Byler from our print archives written by Elaine Low.

UPDATE: The first national Coffee Party USA convention takes place this month, September 24-26 in Louisville, Kentucky. Read here for more information.


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.