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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Liberty, USA DVD Review

Liberty, USA - An E1 Films Release

On DVD: June 30th, 2009

Rated PG

Running time: 71 minutes

Alan Handel (dir.)

Our reviews below:


Liberty, USA DVD Review By John C.


Liberty, USA is a fascinating and sometimes hilarious look at six US towns named Liberty. In the six places they visit, we see stories about how, even today, we are still affected by racism. In one of my favorite segments, we see the inspiring true story about a man from Afghanistan, who lost both his hands to a roadside bomb. In one of the funniest segments we see the teachers at a Christian high school trying to “scare” the students out of having sex.

One of the things that really makes the film work is it’s running time. At only 71 minutes, it never drags or feels too long. A lot of documentaries over-stay their welcome by about twenty minutes. As this is a Canadian film, it’s interesting to see all these stories from a Canadian perspective.

The DVD has no bonus material, except for a trailer gallery for other films.


Liberty, USA DVD Review By Erin V.

*** (out of 4)

Liberty, USA. Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Washington, Texas, and Iowa. Six states across the country, each with a common thread. They all have towns called Liberty, and they were chosen to be profiled in this Canadian documentary. These aren’t the only towns in the US called Liberty though. Most states have at least one. Even in Canada, Liberty seems like a good name for a town. There is a Liberty, Saskatchewan, if you want to name one for an example. But that is not the point. In this documentary, the question is poised to the residents of the towns of Liberty, in the six states I mentioned at the beginning of this review; What does Liberty mean to them?

It appears, there are different ideas about Liberty across the country. Liberty to be free, liberty to be safe, liberty to express your own opinions, etc. But what we also see, is that liberty, in this day and age, is still not always equal. There are those who are still, even today, discriminated against, in both subtle, and not so subtle ways.

The towns all have people that are nice, odd, quirky, or oldschool. As the film takes us across the country, we meet these people sometimes in little corners of the country that we didn’t even know existed. Despite the fact that a documentary like this could go on for a while just interviewing people, (and getting quite boring in the process), this one does not. Interspliced with just the right amount of old movie and news footage, it never drags. And at only 71 minutes, it is just the right length. With both humour, and something to think about, Liberty, USA makes for a very watchable documentary. This week, with both Canada Day, and Independence Day coming up, why not watch this Canadian look at US towns called Liberty. It’s worth it.


Liberty USA DVD Review By Nicole

*** (out of 4)

Liberty, USA is a thought provoking, ironic, and often funny documentary film that challenges the nation of American liberty. Interspliced with old film clips, as well as archival footage of former and current presidents, this documentary takes us to 6 different rural American towns called Liberty, each in a different state. The first place visited is Liberty, Ohio. Here, we meet an intimidating and unsympathetic sheriff, who runs a prison chain gang, and rounds up illegal immigrants. One of the immigrants is a single mother, who is trying to make ends meet for her young children. The second story, which takes place in Kentucky, is my favorite. Here, a kindly, older man, who closely resembles Santa Claus, has, with his wife adopted or fostered dozens of children over the years. One of his charges, now grown up, was rescued from Afghanistan when he was 14. There, he lost both his parents and his hands. Now, thanks to the orphanage (known as Galilean home), he has completed his education, and is attending university. Although he lives at a Christian facility, he still practices his Muslim faith. This story really sums up the true meaning of liberty. The next story takes place in Mississippi. Here, in the South, segregation was eliminated several years ago. But old habits die hard. There is a private all white school, in the town, and a crumbling public school, which mostly contains black students. We also hear of an African American man, whose father was killed about 40 years ago. No one has come forward with enough evidence to reopen the murder case, which was never resolved. We next head to Liberty, Washington, a small gold mining town, with only a handful of remaining residents. The town was slated for demolishing by the parks service years earlier, but was saved by the eccentric (and heavily armed) residents. Now, the remaining residents live very laid back lives, meeting for “happy hour” at a different house each day. We next head to Liberty Texas. Here we visit a Christian high school, where an abstinence only program, mnemonically entitled Social Education to the eXtreme, is taught in health class. We then head to Liberty Iowa, where the first American mosque ever built still exits. The imam wants to open a youth camp on military owned land, but first has to obtain permission to use the land. There are already Bible camps nearby. Can the imam convince the military that they can open a Muslim youth camp on their land? The answer might surprise you.

Interspliced with famous presidential speeches, each story shows us what liberty is all about. We see throughout the documentary that, until racism and religious intolerance is eliminated, ‘true liberty’ cannot exist. However, there is hope, as attitudes change. Liberty, USA is a decent, and often funny documentary, that is worth adding to your collection.


Liberty, USA DVD Review By Maureen

*** (out of 4)

Liberty, U.S.A. is a interesting Canadian documentary produced by the National Film Board, written and directed by Alan Handel.

The film tours through six American towns all named Liberty. It includes the states of Iowa, Ohio, Washington, Kentucky, Texas and Mississippi. The documentary is a mix of interviews with individuals and politicians in each of the towns, archival clips of previous U.S. Presidents and the (then) not yet elected Barack Obama. The interviewer tries to discover what the concept of Liberty means to the individuals and the towns.

Liberty, U.S.A. shows an interesting cross-section of Americans. There’s the law-abiding sheriff who comes down hard on illegal immigrants, and has prison chain gangs clean up litter alongside the highways. There are sex. ed classes in the Bible Belt, private Christian schools that are mostly white and public schools that are mainly black. There is also a Christian orphanage that highlights a young Afghanistan man who lost both hands to a landmine. This particular story was especially touching. The story of the war on terrorism also comes up when a group of law-abiding Lebanese/American Muslims want to open a nature campground for children.

Overall this is a well-made, thought provoking documentary. At 71 minutes it is just the right length for classrooms or at home viewing. Liberty, U.S.A. is worth checking out if you can find it.


Liberty, USA DVD Review By Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Liberty, USA is a documentary for Canadian television produced by the National Film Board. With our Canadian outsider’s perspective, director Alan Handel has chosen six out of the hundreds of US communities called Liberty to show how Americans live out what has gone in many cases from a noble ideal to a propaganda buzzword. Framing the film and between each profile we are treated to archival footage from hokey patriotic documentary and feature westerns and war films.

In Liberty, Ohio we meet the swaggering sheriff who takes law and order seriously, especially when weeding out illegal immigrant workers (though not their bosses), and ensuring the humiliation of prisoners in chain gangs.

In Liberty, Kentucky we meet the leader of a religious community providing support for at risk immigrants, such as a young man brought from Afghanistan with both hands blown off by a mine, now going on to higher education.

Liberty, Washington was a company town which should have shut down when the mine gave out, until a defiant group of residents met the bulldozers at gunpoint. Eventually they were granted protection as part of a national forest.

Liberty, Mississippi is officially integrated, but de facto segration still exists, particularly (by choice) in the churches, but also in schools, since most whites send their kids to an all-white private school, leaving the public schools 90% black. Built in the 1960s, the public high school is in desperate need of repair, but since public school funding comes from local taxes, the white majority has voted against it. Meanwhile, the alleged murders of blacks by klansmen in the 1960’s have never been seriously investigated. Finally, the town is united in patriotic mourning when the body of a black soldier is brought home.

Liberty, Texas typifies the bible belt, where an oxymoronic policy of abstinence sex education has resulted in the nation’s highest levels of teenage pregnancy.

Liberty, Iowa is the home of the nation’s oldest mosque (literally a “Little Mosque on the Prairie”), established over a century ago by the first generation of a Lebanese immigrant family. Their grocery store grew into a large producer and exporter of Halal1 foods, and the present head of the family is a respected philanthropist. Their plans to build an Islamic summer camp on the banks of a national reservoir are in jeopardy after 9/11.

Liberty, USA provides a valuable glimpse of many aspects of small-town American life, without ever passing judgement on what it sees.

1 Halal refers to food prepared according to Islamic law, much like Jewish Kosher laws, which forbid things like pork.


Consensus: Liberty, USA is an interesting Canadian look at what Liberty means to different people who live in small towns across the United States. *** (Out of 4)

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