CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 33. . . .April 30, 2010.
Alan Handel (Writer & Director). Alan Handel, Christian Medawar & Gerry Flahive (Producers). Alan Handel, Yves Basaillon & Silva Basmajian (Executive Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
71 min., DVD, $99.95.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Frank Loreto.
If the small town can be seen as the microcosm of a country as a whole, then Liberty USA by Alan Handel, is not a kind presentation. Americans are proud of their liberty——so much so that there are 200 towns and counties named Liberty. Handel travels to half a dozen of them to discover a “window on the state of America and its most cherished value.”
In Liberty, OH, we meet Sheriff Richard P. Jones who feels that prisoners these days have far too much. According to Jones, “They can go to college, get trades and have better health care than you or I have.” He has resurrected the prison chain gang and has prisoners cleaning the sides of roadways. “Does it embarrass them? Yes.” Proudly he states, “I give them what the law requires. I don’t give them any more. When you come here, you know you’ve been in jail.” Any illegal immigrants in his town are warned that he has his eye out for any “Mexican or Central American workers who have no visa. These people have jumped ahead of those who follow the law.” When the local chicken processing plant is raided for hiring many illegal workers, he is unapologetic for the deportation of 22 workers. “Don’t like it? Go back home.” This application of the law is not as appreciated by those families whose lives are destroyed by Jones’ zeal. They are featured as well, but clearly, as illegals, they are entitled to no liberty in this town.
Sandy and Jerry Tucker of Liberty, KY, went seven years unable to have children. After they adopted a son, they had two biological daughters. From there, they turned their home into a refuge for the poor, ill, war-ravaged children from all over the world. At Galilean Home, they have welcomed 800 children. To date, they have 32 adopted children and have 44 grandchildren. They also house children of prison inmates and are simply doing “what they were called to do.” The film features Abdul who lost both hands when he picked up what turned out to be a bomb. He is shown playing basketball and is thrilled to be at Galilean Home. However, later in the film, Jerry states that with the Homeland Security rules, no such children are allowed in the U.S. let alone in Liberty, KY.
According to one resident, “When Adam and Eve were put out of the Garden of Eden, God needed a place to put it, so he placed it in Liberty, MS. We have to take care of it for Him.” Liberty boasts of the first segregated church in the state. The church still has the “slave gallery” upstairs where the Black congregation could sit. President Obama is quoted as saying, “The most segregated hour in America is on Sunday morning.” Churches are segregated here, as are the schools. The White private school still flies the Stars and Bars of the South, and their team is the Rebels. When asked why the White students do not go to the public school, the town newspaper owner states, “That’s freedom of choice. That’s my answer.” The cameras were not allowed entry to the private school. The public school is 90% Black and gets “a failing grade in a state with the worst schools in the country.” Principal David Terrell states that the school needs a great deal of structural repair. However, in order to get funds for that work, taxes would have to be raised. This motion is defeated by the town council, and the claim is made that this is “Not a racial issue, but a financial issue.” Poet Langston Hughes is quoted: “There are words like liberty/ That almost make me cry/ If you had known what I know/ You’d know why.” There is an undercurrent of bitterness in this town.
Years ago, a Black man was shot and killed by a senator who claimed it was in self-defense. A witness to the shooting, Louis Allen, was also killed, and so the senator was never charged. Allen’s son wants to see justice done and has offered a reward for any information about his father’s murder. The newspaper owner states that “this was 40 years ago and is best forgotten.” The FBI is considering opening up over 100 civil rights cases.
When Harry Mawizuke retired from Hawaii to Liberty, WA, he was given a gun as welcoming gift. The oldest mining town site in the state, Liberty is proud of its refusal to die. Described as a “living ghost town,” Liberty was set for demolition 45 years ago when the mining company decided to move out. The residents were prepared to fight this order. Seven years later, when it was decided that the existence of the town in a national forest was “a violation of the rights of trees,” the residents met the government workers with guns. The Federal government backed off. Mawizuke comments that they have “more guns than what Baghdad’s got.” President Carter made Liberty a protected historical site.
Liberty, TX, is in the heart of the Baptist Bible Belt. While Texas ranks next to last in the nation for preventing teenage pregnancy, there is resistance to teaching sexual education in school. This is referred as “social education to the extreme.” Girls who have been sexually active are encouraged to become “born again virgins.” Here, “Liberty lies in the subjugation of liberty to the will of God.”
In Liberty, IA, one would be in the Muslim heart of the American homeland. This Liberty boasts of the oldest mosque with a population of third and fourth generation Muslims. When Bill Aussey wanted to build a camp for Islamic boys and girls, he ran into opposition. He located a perfect site, an abandoned Girl Scout camp. However two other groups also wanted it. Although Aussey was born in Liberty and employed over 30 workers, he had to endure comments like, “Why should my tax money go to fund a group whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to ours? It’s a false religion and many of its manifestations are evil.” At first, it was just locals talking. However, after 9/11, Aussey was accused of trying to run a terrorist base. The local reservoir would be poisoned. After a Boston radio host came to town to host a three hour programme against the proposed camp, someone tried to burn down Aussey’s house. The host claimed days later that his “army was getting results.” Despite the opposition, Aussey’s request was accepted, and the youth camp dream came true.
Handel lets the townspeople tell their own stories, warts and all. Clearly, he sees contradictions abound but has no need to editorialize. This is a very interesting film and very watchable. It would have applicability in an American History or Sociology class, but also anywhere irony is being discussed. It is a tongue-in-cheek presentation, but overall is a rather scathing view of liberty in America. An American audience may not find it at all flattering.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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