The First Amendment Project Movie Review
The three stories start strong and quickly peter out. The first, and by far the most interesting, follows Al Franken's experience as the butt of a lawsuit from Fox News, after Franken put a photo of Fox star Bill O'Reilly on his book and used Fox catchphrase "fair and balanced" on the cover. O'Reilly and Franken got into a screaming match, and Fox went to court. Fox lost, dismally, and Franken earned national notoriety with a bestseller. The lessons -- about what is protected speech and what is not -- are interesting and important.
The second and third stories are far less interesting. Mario Van Peebles directs a story about New Jersey's poet laureate Amiri Baraka (yeah, Jersey has a poet laureate!), who came under fire for writing a poem that blamed 9/11 on America, the Jews, and just about everyone else except Al Qaeda. Outrage sparked demands for him to quit his post, though the resolution (nothing much happened and people forgot about the whole thing when they realized they had more important things to do) doesn't make for good cinema. The final story borders on lame: Director John Walter documents protestors at the Republican National Convention and asks us to be horrified when some bicyclists are arrested and police set up metal barricades which make it hard for the protestors to move around freely. Shocking! While I'm all for freedom of assembly, I'm even more for freedom of automobiles on city streets.
It's hit and miss, but worth watching for the Franken bit alone. The DVD also includes Baraka's complete poetic performance, extra interviews, a deleted scene, and comic strips from the Fox vs. Franken incident.