Eric Byler’s and Annabel Park’s gloriously incensed “9500 Liberty” anticipates the anti-immigration fervor stirring in Arizona and other parts of the United States, documenting events in Prince William County, Virginia in 2007, after elected officials pass a law making police officers question anyone they have “probable cause” to identify as undocumented. Byler’s feature background is in drama, including 2002’s “Charlotte Sometimes,” but he and Park take interesting turns in nonfiction film form, including incorporating how their presence and documentation shift the lines of the battle. Still, there’s no lack of drama as shown in the heated battle on the Virginia streets and on the internet. Yet their larger strength is an understanding of how extreme rhetoric favors the louder, more extreme voices, and how contemporary politicking is shaped by that. The filmmakers have recently been showing the film in Arizona, hoping for a similar injection into the debate. While Byler began in narrative, he (and Park) is assuredly a child of YouTube—only five years old!—where early bits of “9500 Liberty” were shown. (The series is at youtube.com/9500liberty.) Byler’s activism, he’s said, comes from his own experience growing up biracial in Virginia, and that Senate candidate George Allen’s “macaca” moment led him to activist filmmaking. Tacitly, “9500 Liberty” is a reminder that most Americans have a great, single factor in common: we are (almost) all immigrants or descended from immigrants. This is stirring grassroots filmmaking, raw, elemental. 80m. (Ray Pride)
“9500 Liberty” opens Friday at Pipers. A trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.