Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech

Shouting Fire

It’s been five months and I’m still slowly catching up on a bunch of documentaries I missed at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Luckily, this week I received a screener for Liz Garbus’ ‘Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech’ in the mail thanks to the wonderful folks at HBO, so now I can check one more doc off my ‘must watch’ list!

Director Liz Garbus sits down with her Dad, First Amendment attorney Martin Garbus, to explore the many complexities involved in upholding free speech in America. We do get a little bit of history — from McCarthyism to Carlin’s seven dirty words — with most of the film consisting of experts and commentator’s sharing their thoughts on what constitutes free speech and moments where the right to speak freely has been threatened or flat out ignored. The film presents a series of case studies separated into multiple individual stories ranging from a University professor’s controversial views on 9/11 and his subsequent dismissal to statements about homosexuality written on a high school students t-shirt. The cool thing about these segments is once you put them back to back, you really get a sense of the challenges of maintaining the right to free speech. Fighting for the rights of the Westboro Baptist Church to carry ‘God Hates Fags’ signs in public might be tough to swallow, but it’s all part of the package. As the title states, these stories are truly on the edge of free speech.

The film is well shot and makes good use of its structure to break up what could’ve been a bland talking heads piece. The rapport between Liz Garbus and her Father elevated the discussion into a casual ‘talking shop’ sort of honesty that you can imagine taking place at a Garbus Family holiday or get-together. And as I mentioned previously, the selection of case studies and the order in which they’re presented really worked for me and completely sold the idea that support of free speech is not limited to your own opinions or beliefs. A great use of structure to directly support the content. My only complaint is the film felt a little short, but I appreciated the lean but informative presentation. Watch for Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech, premiering June 29 on HBO.