First Amendment film festival

Film and video productions can vividly depict the impact of censorship on individuals and society. Consider screening a film or sponsoring a First Amendment film festival for Banned Books Week. Public performance of these videos and DVDs may require a license. Vendors provide information at Motion Picture Licensing Corporation and Movie Licensing USA. Note, though, that many documentaries come with public performance licenses.


" Cinema Paradiso," A subtle tale that explores the unacceptability of censorship. The "Cinema Paradiso" is the only theatre in a small, suffocating Sicilian village, where the local priest expurgates all the love scenes from the movies, which are hung as strips of film in the projectionist's booth. The projectionist, Alfredo, befriends Toto, a local boy who grows up to take Alfredo's job until Alfredo tells Toto to leave, because "you will never find your life in so narrow-minded a place." When Toto returns for Alfredo's funeral many years later, he receives a gift that Alfredo left for him: a movie reel, on which are all the expurgated scenes from the movies of his childhood: all the censored kisses, passion, and life. (1989, Italy, 155m, HBO/Miramax)

" Deliberate Intent," A First Amendment scholar is recruited by an attorney to sue a publishing company after a hit man commits a triple murder by allegedly following a how-to manual the book company published. Arguing that the publisher is not protected by the First Amendment, the crusading lawyers seek monetary damages for the victims' families. (2000, 85m, 20th Century Fox Television)

" Fahrenheit 451," based upon the Ray Bradbury novel, depicts a future totalitarian and oppressive society, where books are forbidden and the mission of firemen is to burn books. (1966, color, 112m, Rank/Anglo Enterprise/Vineyard)

" Footloose," filled with pop tunes still heard today, details the life of a city boy who moves to a small town where rock music and dancing have been banned; he decides to stand up to the town and rallies his classmates to fight for the right to hold a senior prom with music and dance. (1984, color, 107m, Paramount Pictures)

" The Front:" Woody Allen plays a man of no real talent or strong political convictions who is paid to be a front for a group of blacklisted writers during the McCarthy period. A political innocent, he starts to see the evils of the blacklist and how it destroys people and careers. He wants to take a stand--but how can he? (1976, 95m, Columbia Pictures)

" Good Night and Good Luck" depicts the effort by television broadcast journalists Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly to expose the fearmongering tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Not only an examination of McCarthyism, it also provides a glimpse into the world of television news in its infancy, before the era of cable news networks. (2005, bw, 93m, Warner Independent Pictures)

" Guilty by Suspicion," tells the story of a fictional movie director who returns to 1950s Hollywood from France to find that his loyalty has been called into question by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Unable to work, he is promised a director's job by his studio if he names names, and must decide what he stands for. (2001, 105m, Warner Bros. Pictures/Canal+)

" Inherit the Wind," director Stanley Kramer's stellar work based on the fictionalized Broadway play depicting the Scopes Monkey Trial and William Jennings Bryan's and Clarence Darrow's debate on teaching evolution in the public schools. (1960, 128m, United Artists/MGM)

" The Insider," a tale from another era at CBS News, when the network silenced its own producer and Jeffrey Wigand, a former tobacco executive who revealed that the tobacco industry knew that cigarettes are addictive and harmful. The film depicts the pair's attempt to overcome the tobacco companies' and CBS' attempts to silence them. (1999, 150m, Touchstone/Spyglass Entertainment.)

" 1984" is the George Orwell classic about Big Brother and the subordination of the individual to the state. Winston is a good member of the party whose daily work is rewriting history, until he rebels by falling in love. (Multiple versions; 1955, bw, 91m, Holiday; 1984, color, 120m, Atlantic Releasing Corporation, 20th Century Fox Distribution)

" People v. Larry Flynt," a sympathetic portrayal of Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine and his struggle to make a living publishing his girlie magazine and how it changes into a battle for freedom of speech. (1996, 129m, Columbia Pictures)

" Pump Up the Volume,": Behind the microphone the shy teenager Mark transforms into "Hard Harry," the DJ of a pirate radio station whose uncensored commentary challenging the status quo infuriates the local high school principal. After one of the station's listeners commits suicide, a hunt for the pirate DJ starts and he ends up in jail. He then calls on other teens to "seize the air" and others follow his example. (1990, 105m, New Line Cinema.)


" The First Amendment Project," Taking freedom of speech as its collected theme, this series of short films offers a snapshot of life at the start of the 21st century and commentary on the erosion of First Amendment rights. Topics include the lawsuit filed against satirist Al Franken by Fox News for using their slogan in his book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right;" New Jersey Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka's account of the battles he encountered over his 9/11-themed poem "Somebody Blew Up America;" and a consideration of the public's right to protest versus the need for security, set against the backdrop of the 2004 national Republican convention. (2004, 67m, Sundance Channel/Court TV)

" Little Sisters vs. Big Brother," This documentary, filmed over a 10-year period, centers on the debate over censorship as it follows Vancouver's Little Sister's Bookstore and its 20-year struggle with Canada Customs over the seizure of books. In the face of bigotry, bombings and repeated book seizures, it wages the most important legal battle in history against Canada Customs. (2002, Canada, 71m, Weissman/Homeboy Productions)

" Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," details the tribulations of Tommy and Dick Smothers and their popular late-'60s television show. Their jabs at censorship, gun ownership, the Vietnam war, considered controversial at the time, now seem mild today, but still made CBS executives nervous and led to the show's cancellation. (2002, 93m, Muldaur Media/Bravo Entertainment)

" Tell It Like It Is," a brief, 15 minute film featuring interviews with censored children's authors Judy Blume, David Klass, Robert Lipsyte, Betty Miles, Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, and Rachel Vail describing their experiences with censorship. (2000, 15m, National Coalition Against Censorship)

" NOW with Bill Moyers: Katie Roiphe on pornography, censorship, and feminism," In this program, Bill Moyers talks to Katie Roiphe, feminist critic and author of The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism. Expanding on many of the ideas in her book, Roiphe discusses how restrictions on pornography could lead to more general censorship, while widespread access actually undermines pornography's fascination. (2003, 22m, Films for the Humanities)

" Culture Shock" (PBS Series) This series examines the arts, cultural values, and freedom of expression by focusing on the controversies surrounding four well-known works: "Born to Trouble: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn;" "Shock of the Nude: Manet's Olympia;" "Hollywood Censored: Movies, Morality & the Production Code," and "The Devil's Music: 1920s Jazz." (2000, 57m (each), PBS). Series Web site.

Rare Films:

The following films are rare and hard to find, but may be available through interlibrary loan:

Two well-received Afterschool Specials:

" Seasonal Differences:" A powerful parable telling how the display of--and protest against--a Nativity scene on a high-school lawn erupts into anti-Semitic fury in a small community. (1987, Barr Films) (See this Worldcat link and this Worldcat link for possible loans.)

" The Day they Came to Arrest the Book:" Who would have believed that The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn could cause the worst crisis in the history of George Mason High School? Certainly not Barney Roth, editor of the school paper. But when a small but vocal group of students and parents decide that the book is racist, sexist, and immoral--and should be removed from reading lists and the school library--Barney takes matters into his own hands. Based on Nat Hentoff's young-adult novel (1988, Filmfair Communications) (See this Worldcat link for possible loans.)

" Storm Center," a classic Bette Davis film, in which she portrays a small-town librarian branded as a Communist by local politicians when she refuses to withdraw a controversial book from the library's shelves. (1956, 85m, Columbia Pictures) (See this Worldcat link for possible loans.)