Affd 2010: 9500 Liberty Review

[Our thanks to Josh Hurtado for another review from the Asian Film Festival of Dallas, this time of a potentially incendiary documentary.] 

In 2007, Prince William county in Virginia passed a law requiring that its police officers verify the immigration status of anyone whom they had "probable cause" to believe were in the country illegally. In 2010, Arizona passed a similar law. I wonder if they got a chance to watch this film before taking a step down that path? They may have thought twice if they had. 

Perhaps it is my own naïveté, but I wouldn't have thought of Prince William county, or really any non-border state as the ground zero for an immigration debate. In the early 2000's, during the height of the economy's boom times, Prince William was experiencing a construction boom, and immigrant workers filled many of those jobs, perhaps too many. This film documents the struggle behind passing this law and follows both sides every move on the way toward a resolution.

The film began as a series of
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Affd 2010: 9500 Liberty Review

[Our thanks to Liz Reed from for this review from the Asian Film Festival of Dallas]

While 9500 Liberty documents an issue that consumed a Virginia county three years ago, the film couldn't be more relevant or provide more forewarning to Arizona's current immigration bill, which passed in April. When Prince William County lawmakers presented an immigration resolution in 2007 bent on deporting illegal aliens from the community using "probable cause," or giving the police the authority to question a person they suspect is undocumented, the community became divided racially, socially, and economically.

Asian-American directors Eric Byler and Annabel Park openly admit in the film that their involvement in the immigration debate goes beyond their role behind the camera, and they never look back, or apologize. While this bias seems to paint the conservative, anti-immigration residents of Manassas, Virginia as the racist villains (especially the film's selection of citizen speakers from town hall meetings: "Remember who was responsible for 9/11. It was the illegals"), chances are you have already
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Affd Gears Up to Vanquish Texas with Asian Films

[Thanks to our friend Josh Hurtado for providing an advance look at the schedule.] 

It is July. For me this means gearing up for my annual marathon movie event, the Asian Film Festival of Dallas. The organizers have been tossing hints at titles out via facebook and Twitter, but yesterday they finally let the cats out of the bag. 

This year Affd is screening 30+ features as well as their usual shorts programs. I'm pretty sure this may be their biggest festival ever in terms of variety. The schedule looks great, with some really awesome titles and some surprises (which are almost always my favorite part!). Affd has a newly redesigned website that makes it easy to explore the titles, watch trailers, make your own schedule, and learn about the events. Facebook friends and Twitter followers are always the first to know about cool events and news, so be sure to check them out there as well as the official site for all the latest!
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400 Screens, 400 Blows - "Liberty" Balance

I have seen a few pretty good documentaries this year, including October Country and Big River Man, but 9500 Liberty is something else. This could be the future of documentaries. I have been looking for ways that documentaries could break out of their tired formats, using talking heads and clips, or else that old pompous, preachy, "this is good for you" tone, and this movie by Eric Byler and Annabel Park has done it. It follows the progress of an anti-immigration law in Virginia. With everyone fighting and taking sides, the filmmakers discover that they are in possession of the most complete and accurate information, and so they begin to take part in their own story. In addition, they posted bits and pieces of the film on YouTube, further changing the direction of their coverage. It's a living, breathing film.

Die-hard film buffs may recognize Eric Byler's name. He has
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Interview: Eric Byler, '9500 Liberty'

As I noted last week, filmmaker Eric Byler was in Austin to promote 9500 Liberty, currently playing at the Dobie (Don's review). The documentary depicts the battleground in Virginia and on the Internet over an anti-immigration policy, the "Immigration Resolution," that the Prince William County board of supervisors adopted in 2008. To counteract the racial divisions that occurred in their community, county residents formed a resistance using YouTube videos and virtual town halls. The inflammatory showdown between the groups had profound and devastating social and economic impacts in their community.

Byler and Annabel Park not only co-directed 9500 Liberty, but co-founded the political action group Coffee Party USA in response to the politics that enabled the Virginia anti-immigration law to pass. Byler is the YouTube/Online Media Coordinator for the group, and has created a number of videos about political issues.

As he mentions in his interview, Byler screened two of his feature
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Immigration Doc '9500 Liberty' Heading for Austin

Arizona's new immigration law has provoked accusations of racial profiling, since it gives police the power to stop and detain suspects if they have "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally. The law has triggered a national debate about immigration and the role that local and state authorities play in enforcing federal laws. A new documentary shines a spotlight on the social and economic impacts of immigration policies, including racial profiling.

The documentary 9500 Liberty, directed and produced by SXSW Award Winner Eric Byler (Americanese) and Coffee Party Movement founder Annabel Park, depicts the battleground in Prince William County, Virginia and on the Internet in the battle over immigration policy. Anti-immigration networks used online media to frighten local lawmakers and citizens in Prince William County. In order to counteract the racial divisions that occurred in their community, residents formed a resistance using YouTube videos and virtual townhalls. The inflammatory showdown
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IFC speaks AMERICANese

[/link] > IFC First Take > Joan Chen IFC got lucky this weekend. It has just been announced that the indie company has scored the North American rights to AMERICANese, Eric Byler's follow up to Charlotte Sometimes. IFC picked up the feature for its IFC First Take label. It will be released in theaters and on-demand for Comcast/Cablevision simultaneously. Based on the novel by Shawn Wong, AMERICANese deals with issues of Asian-American identity, centering on the relationships of Chinese-American Raymond Ding (Chris Tashima). Also starring in the film is Joan Chen (The Last Emperor). Scheduled for release in 2007, AMERICANese already has a growing fan base. Byler and cast took home both the audience award for narrative feature and the jury prize for ensemble acting from the South by Southwest Film Festival. ...
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San Francisco -- Despite its frank approach to the controversial issue of race, Americanese, writer-director Eric Byler's lethargic adaptation of Shawn Wong's novel, American Knees, limps along without a sense of narrative drive. A collection of scenes in search of a coherent story, the film's characters don't develop, and plot lines fail to coalesce by the movie's conclusion. In a word: it's dull.

The film may resonate with Asian-American audiences, too long deprived of seeing images of themselves onscreen, especially as romantic leads in a modern love story. It should have long a run on the festival circuit but has limited art house potential.

Perhaps stymied by the inherent difficulty of transforming the internal world of a novel into a movie, Byler, who demonstrated more storytelling finesse in his feature debut, Charlotte Sometimes, hasn't succeeded in opening up his story to cinematic or dramatic effect. However, he does convey the confusion that follows a breakup, how rapidly intimacy turns into estrangement. To be fair, Byler had his work cut out for him. Somehow, he had build an entertaining film around characters who are stuck and not particularly interesting to begin with.

The story begins after the protagonist, Ray (Chris Tashima), a middle-aged, divorced Chinese-American professor, and his considerably younger bi-racial girlfriend, Aurora (Allison Sie), have broken up. She wants to move on, he can't let go. Tashima, a classically handsome, photogenic actor, struggles to make a stiff, inexpressive character, short on charisma, psychologically interesting. Unfortunately, Ray remains opaque as he mopes his way through life and, sadly for the audience, the entire movie. It's hard to tell if the fault lies in the script's uninspired dialogue, ineffective direction, poor acting or a combination of all three.

Things heat up when Ray embarks on a troubled love affair with Betty (Joan Chen), who delivers a raw performance as a needy, neurotic co-worker with a mysterious past. Betty adds intrigue and a needed injection of adrenaline, but then she suddenly drops out of sight. Kelly Hu overacts as Allison's friend, Brenda -- a loud, nasty vixen and a misogynist stereotype.

Veteran actor Sab Shimono is marvelous as Ray's heartsick father, a man still deeply in love with his late wife. The film perks up whenever Shimono is onscreen. With his vitality and endearing goofiness, it's tempting to wish that the story centered on him rather than his self-absorbed son.

Americanese, with its focus on love, race and sexuality, is a departure from Asian-American films that have focused primarily on cross-generational conflict, the tension between traditional immigrant parents and their pop-culture-intoxicated American offspring. If only the film was good as its intentions.


American Knees Prods.


Director: Eric Byler

Screenwriter: Eric Byler

Producer: Lisa Onodera

Executive producer: Allison Sie

Director of photography: Robert Humphreys, Stacy Toyama

Production designer: Ben Woolverton

Music: Michael Brook

Costume designer: Jeanette Fuller

Editor: Kenn Kashima.


Raymond Ding: Chris Tashima

Aurora Crane: Allison Sie

Wood Ding: Sab Shimono

Brenda Nishitani: Kelly Hu

Jimmy Chan: Michael Paul Chan

Betty Nguyen: Joan Chen

Steve: Ben Shenkman

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 114 minutes

'Americanese' tops SXSW list with 2 awards

NEW YORK -- Austin's South by Southwest Film Festival announced its jury and audience award winners Wednesday. Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin's crime caper Live Free or Die took home narrative feature honors from the jury, while Eric Byler's romantic dramedy Americanese won the audience award in the same category. The latter also garned a special jury prize for ensemble cast, making it the only film to nab two honors. The jury awarded Mark Woolen's roller derby-themed "Jam" best documentary feature and gave a special jury prize to James D. Scurlock's credit card docu Maxed Out. Audiences went for Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel's medieval fantasy game study, Darkon, as best docu feature.

'Forever' to open ReelWorld fest

TORONTO -- The ReelWorld Film Festival, which is devoted to culturally and racially diverse films, unveiled its lineup Tuesday. The third edition of the Toronto event will open April 3 with the Mia Kirshner starrer Now & Forever and will close April 6 with director Ernest Dickerson's Good Fences, starring Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg. Other films to unspool at ReelWorld, which was founded and is organized by actress Tonya Lee Williams, include the North American premiere of the Bollywood hit Escape From Taliban: A True Story, by India's Ujjal Chatterjee, and Una Casa con Vista al Mar (A House With a View of the Sea), from Venezuela's Alberto Arvelo Mendoza. U.S. films in the lineup include Eric Byler's romantic drama Charlotte Sometimes; Rick Derby's Rocks With Wings, a documentary centering on a girl's basketball team on a New Mexican Navajo reservation; and Bobby Houston's documentary Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks. Among the 65 films that will unspool at the festival are 26 fiction features, 15 world premieres and 30 Canadian premieres. "This is a festival that wants to propel the careers of diversity actors and filmmakers and reflect the diversity of Canada on the big and small screen," Williams said at a news conference here. Raised in Toronto, Williams (The Young & the Restless) divides her time between acting in Los Angeles and business in Toronto, which includes a public relations agency and the ReelWorld Foundation. This year's festival will include a trade forum and gala evening screenings and will conclude with an awards presentation.

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