Review of the Chicago kickoff screening of the documentary Shadows of Liberty

Posted by Mitchell - March 6, 2014 (entry 706)

On February 25, 2014, Chicago played host to the first screening in a continent-wide tour for the documentary film Shadows of Liberty. The film is an in-depth critical examination of the American media, including (and especially) the struggle for the public to enter and influence American media policy. The Shadows of Liberty screening in Chicago, in a peculiar bit of historical irony, took place in Lincoln Hall at Northwestern University Law School in downtown Chicago. The irony is, as longtime Chicago media activists will recall, that the same room that showed Shadows of Liberty in 2014 to a crowd of about 200 people in Chicago also played host in 2003 to that year's Midwest Forum on Media Ownership. That forum, along with a dozen other official and unofficial fora in 2002 and 2003, coupled with a great deal of other efforts by a lot of people, helped to rally awareness and opposition to the Federal Communication Commissions's controversial media ownership rule evisceration in 2003. That's no small matter; the opposition helped make those rule changes the second-most popular news story of 2003, and fueled a successful court ruling that overturned the rules' implementation and prevented our concentrated and bad media from getting much more concentrated and far worse.

As to the film Shadows of Liberty itself, it is, in a word, outstanding -- quite possibly the best documentary film about the American news media and American media system ever made. (That's not a topic that has engendered a lot of critical filmmaking, which makes it rather sad that the hurdle to jump over is so low.) The film provided a number of case studies of where the American news media went wrong or went awry, pointing an accusatory finger at corporate control, government malfeasance, and the almighty dollar. The film, to its eternal credit, did review some the popular efforts in 2003 and 2007 to oppose the FCC's beheading of its media ownership rules, but there I felt it showed an incomplete picture. Shadows of Liberty showed the protests at the 2003 FCC meeting where FCC chair (and present-day cable TV lobbyist) Michael Powell voted to ballwhack the ownership rules. But the film didn't mention the buildup of the opposition over those months (of which the Midwest Forum on Media Ownership was a key part), nor did the film discuss the widespread outrage that followed, nor did it mention the court ruling in 2003 that overturned the FCC's ruling in its entirety, nor did it mention the subsequent positive consequences (like the corporate flailing that followed, the advance of LPFM due to the behind-the-scenes sniping, and the breakup of Viacom and the Tribune Corporation). To be fair, there was so much that the film could NOT mention due to time constraints, and as the filmmaker himself mentioned at the Chicago screening of Shadows of Liberty, and some painful decisions had to be made. But the opposition was featured where it is almost always ignored in American media, even in a form that's admittedly incomplete, and for that the film deserves our support.

You can judge for yourself: The film is viewable at one of the many screenings at the long-awaited American screenings tour of the film (encompassing a planned 171 cities). You can also get a DVD of the film or view the film via online pay-per-view. End commercial.

I had the good fortune to be a panelist at the post-film panel, which included an all-star cast including CMA contributors Dale Lehman (of WZRD radio in Chicago, 88.3 FM) and Mike Kalas (of Chicago's MultiKulti). The panel, moderated by Chicago radio host WC Turck, was recorded and the video has been posted online:

The film's promotional organizers have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to complete the tour of North America, and by "funds" we're talking a goal of $13,500. In a world where Comcast and Facebook can throw out multi-billion-dollar mergers, it's a shame that authentic grassroots efforts to raise awareness of such an important issue has to scrape and claw to get even the pittance that's being asked for. Hence, we strongly encourage you to contribute to the campaign if you are able to do so.

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