Films on Free Speech


War on Whistleblowers:
Free Press and the National Security State

Documentary 2013 NR 1hr 6m. This documentary highlights four cases in which whistleblowers exposed government wrongdoing to the media and faced serious repercussions. Eye-opening, frank, and disturbing, this film is a must watch. This is a very good documentary and is a fraction of what is really going on in our government. The people of this country need to stand up and say NO MORE and start fighting for your rights before they are gone. See Full Review


Documentary 2008 NR 1hr 20m. With homeland security and the war on terror becoming increasingly important issues, the U.S. government has grown more and more secretive, allegedly to protect the country and save lives. But is this culture of secrets at odds with democracy? This documentary examines both the pros and cons of government concealment by focusing on classified secrets and the arguments the government makes in the name of national security. See Full Review

We Steal Secrets:
The Story of WikiLeaks

Documentary 2013 R 2hr 9m. This documentary reveals how Julian Assange fired a global debate on secrecy when his web site, Wikileaks, published thousands of confidential documents. Taking no sides, Oscar winner Alex Gibney examines every aspect of the controversial event.


Documentary Frontline 2011 NR. Intelligence analyst Bradley Manning set off a firestorm of controversy when he released millions of classified documents to the WikiLeaks Web site in 2010. “Frontline” investigates this enigmatic figure’s motives and the fallout of his actions. It’s the biggest intelligence breach in U.S. history-the leaking of more than half-a-million classified documents on the Wikileaks website in the spring of 2010. Behind it all, stand two very different men: Julian Assange, the Internet activist and hacker who published the documents, and an Army intelligence analyst named Bradley E. Manning, who’s currently charged with handing them over. Private Manning allegedly leaked the secret cables — along with a controversial video — in the hope of inciting “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.” Assange’s stated mission has been to force the U.S. and other governments into maximum transparency through his whistle-blowing website. Through in-depth interviews with Manning’s father, Assange, and others close to the case, veteran Frontline correspondent Martin Smith tells the full story behind the leaks. He also reports on the U.S. government’s struggle to protect national security information in a post 9/11 world.

Julian Assange: A Modern Day Hero?
Inside the World of WikiLeaks

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 30m. Radical and unapologetic, Australian publisher and journalist Julian Assange created massive controversy in 2010 by making public a flood of secret correspondence among U.S. government agencies via the WikiLeaks website. As this comprehensive and unbiased examination of Assange’s career illustrates, he was already engaged in distributing “secret” information in the public interest before the revelations that made him world famous. The repeated heading used in the film is “Courage is Contageous.”

Shut Up & Sing

Documentary 2006 R 93 minutes. Shut Up & Sing is a documentary that centers on country music’s The Dixie Chicks and their nationwide vilification over an off-hand critical comment one of them made about President George W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq war during their introduction to their song “Travelin’ Soldier”. The song is a tale about a shy, lonesome, young American soldier who strikes up a conversation and later a correspondence with a high school girl during the Vietnam War era, and at the end the soldier has died unnoticed by any except the young girl, who he realized he had fallen in love with. During the introduction to this song “Travelin’ Soldier” on March 10, 2003, during a London concert, 9 days before the March 19, 2003 invasion of Iraq, lead vocalist Natalie Maines, who along with her band mates Robison and Maguire are all natives of Texas, told the London audience: “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas”. The positive reaction to this statement from the British audience contrasted with the negative reaction that ensued in the U.S., including boycotts. The band was assaulted by talk-show conservatives, and their albums were discarded in public protests. Subsequent U.S. publication of Maines’ comments caused some stations, including 42 owned by Cumulus Media, to drop the song from their playlists, causing it to fall from No. 1 on the country singles chart the following week, before disappearing from the charts entirely. So “Travelin’ Soldier” was the last single released by the Dixie Chicks to reach the top 20 on the country singles chart. The title of the movie, Shut Up and Sing, comes from a comment made by a detractor during the controversy, which was magnified by the fact that the band and their fans are from the politically conservative South. Over a three-year period, the singers went from darlings of the industry to political targets being demonized by the national media and denounced by some ex-fans. Country music stations refused to play their music from fear of losing listeners. This documentary joins the Dixie Chicks’ journey following ‘The Incident’, after which the Chicks were boycotted on country radio and even received death threats simply for voicing an opinion and standing up for freedom of speech. The film does a good job of documenting the effect that a single comment by a performer had on the group’s entire career. Raises the question: Is it unpatriotic to make a negative comment about the President? Ever or just in a time of armed conflict? The subject matter transcends country music. This doc is about two things: 1) free speech and its consequences and (2) how we as Americans view free speech. The fact that the right-wing was so up-in-arms about this single comment is now laughable in view of the fact that much of the country eventually turned against that war for oil and the lies about weapons of mass destruction. These singers were spot-on and ahead of other citizens when it came to the (deserved) criticism of the Bush doctrine. It’s scary to watch what happened just a few years ago in this freeze on free speech. It is refreshing to see these true artists hold onto their integrity, whatever you think of their politics.  It is shameful that an ordinary jab at the president, that was so innocuous, led to such a crazy witch hunt. This movie is a wonderful cautionary tale. Highly recommended! Wake up, America! Documentary 2006 R 93 minutes. Directed by Barbara Kopple (of Harlan County, U.S.A. fame)s.

News War

Documentary Frontline Four-Part Series 2007 NR 2 discs. The PBS public affairs program turns its famously critical eye on its own world: modern American journalism. Tracing the evolution of the U.S. press from the Nixon era to the Iraq War, “Frontline” interviews key figures in print and electronic media. With interviewees including columnist William Safire, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the program examines the myriad factors that shape the news. In News War, Frontline examines the political, cultural, legal, and economic forces challenging the news media today and how the press has reacted in turn. Through interviews with key figures in print, broadcast and electronic media over the past four decades — and with unequaled, behind-the-scenes access to some of today’s most important news organizations, Frontline traces the recent history of American journalism, from the Nixon administration’s attacks on the media to the post-Watergate popularity of the press, to the new challenges presented by the war on terror and other global forces now changing — and challenging — the role of the press in our society. The fourth hour of News War looks at media around the globe to reveal the international forces that influence journalism and politics in the United States. The lead story focuses on the new Arab media and its role in both mitigating and exacerbating the clash between the West and Islam. With a focus on Al Jazeera and how it has changed the face of a parochial and tightly controlled Arab media, this hour explores Al Jazeera’s growing influence around the world — from Muslim communities in Europe to the pending launch of a new English-language service that will be broadcast in the United States.

Big Boys Gone Bananas!*

Documentary 2011 NR. 1hr 42m. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is the follow-up to the 2009 film titled simply BANANAS!*, the true story about a Swedish filmmaker and a banana corporation. This fascinating new documentary follows the battle between the Swedish filmmakers and the fruit giant Dole Food Company, which conducted a legal and publicity campaign against the filmmakers to prevent the showing of their first film about a lawsuit won in Los Angeles against the company for its use of banned pesticides in Nicaragua that make field workers sterile. What is a big corporation capable of in order to protect its brand? Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten’s experienced this recently: dirty tricks, lawsuits, manipulation, at the price of free speech.  This Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is a David vs. Goliath, showing filmmaker Gertten fighting for the right of documentary filmmakers to do what they feel is right, and that is to expose bad practices of big corporations. Unfortunately Goliath always has more money because the big corporations targeted have deep pockets to file lawsuits, in this case to sue to keep the film from being seen. Dole has 75,000 employees in 90 countries, and earns seven billion dollars a year, making them the biggest food company in the world. “So the stage is set. In one corner, Dole the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, fortified with high-priced attorneys and spin-doctors. In the other corner, a Swedish independent filmmaker, armed with his conviction of what is right. What are the odds he’ll win?”  See Full Review


Documentary 2009 NR 87 minutes. Nicaraguan laborers are paying a high price health-wise while working to get cheap bananas onto the world’s tables, and Southern California personal injury lawyer Juan Dominguez has decided to do something about it. This film tells his story. Swedish director Fredrik Gertten follows Dominguez as he takes on corporate giants Dole Food and Dow Chemical on behalf of 10,000 banana workers made ill by a pesticide used in Nicaraguan plantations years after it was banned in the States. This 2009 film titled BANANAS!* was followed by a sequel film two years later in 2011 titled Big Boys Gone Bananas!*

Shouting Fire

Documentary 2009 NR. Filmmaker Liz Garbus sheds light on the current state of free speech in America in this documentary, which examines the increase in First Amendment cases generated by both liberals and conservatives in the wake of 9/11. Reflecting on contemporary and historical cases — including The New York Times‘s battle to publish the Pentagon Papers — Garbus explores how fear of an outside enemy has frequently turned Americans against each other.

Fair Game

Docudrama 2010 PG-13 108 minutes. After her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), writes op-ed columns accusing the Bush administration of misleading the public to justify invading Iraq, Valerie Plame Wilson’s (Naomi Watts) status as a covert CIA agent is leaked by administration officials. Based on events described in Plame Wilson’s memoir, this drama explores the political scandal that led to the conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

The ACLU Freedom Files

Documentary 2006 NR 2 discs. This 10-part documentary series produced by the American Civil Liberties Union and filmmaker Robert Greenwald shares inspiring stories about Americans whose civil liberties have been compromised. More importantly, the programs chronicle how the people fought back. Combining comedy, drama, music, animation and interviews, Emmy-winning director Jeremy Kagan covers everything from racial profiling to the Patriot Act to religious freedom. Freedom of speech is a given in America, right? Not if you’re Muslim hip-hop poet Amir Sulaiman, or groups of protesters at the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2004.

● Dissent: The ACLU Freedom Files: Freedom of speech is a given in America, right? Not if you’re Muslim hip-hop poet Amir Sulaiman, or groups of protesters at the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2004.

● Surveillance: The ACLU Freedom Files: From warrantless wiretapping of phone calls and monitoring of emails to the creation of a national identity card, the government is using “national security” as a justification for encroaching on our right to privacy and freedoms of speech and association. But the initiatives are stirring intense opposition from many groups across the political spectrum.

● Youth Speak: The ACLU Freedom Files: Young people in America are often treated as if the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to them. In this episode of The Freedom Files, you’ll meet young people whose rights were violated and who fought back.

The Most Dangerous Man in America
Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Documentary 2009 NR 94 minutes. Revisiting a pivotal point in American history, this documentary chronicles Pentagon insider Daniel Ellsberg’s daring endeavor to leak top-secret government papers that disclosed shocking truths about the Vietnam War and Nixon’s presidency.

The Pentagon Papers

Docudrama 2003 R 92 minutes. This compelling political drama is based on the true story of high-ranking Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg (James Spader), who, during the Nixon era, strove to preserve American democracy by leaking top-secret documents to the New York Times and Washington Post. The documents in question would eventually become famous as the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the true reasons for U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Alan Arkin and Paul Giamatti co-star.

Ralph Nader
An Unreasonable Man

Documentary 2006 NR 2hr 2m. Thought-provoking and revealing, this biographical documentary profiles the personal and professional life of Ralph Nader, one of America’s most controversial consumer advocates and political activists. Interviews and archival footage help illuminate the career of an influential public figure whose willingness to take on big industry, beginning with General Motors, earned him a reputation as both a hero of the working class, and eventually as a public pariah after the 2000 presidential election. See Full Review

Shut Up & Sing

Documentary 2006 R 93 minutes. Directed by Barbara Kopple (of Harlan County, U.S.A. fame), this documentary centers on country music’s The Dixie Chicks and their nationwide vilification over critical statements they made about President Bush in 2003. Over a three-year period, the singers went from darlings of the industry to political targets, receiving constant death threats and being demonized by the national media and denounced by their fans.

This Film is Not Yet Rated

Documentary 2006 NR 90 minutes. This film is an independent documentary about the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system and its effect on American culture. Kirby Dick’s provocative documentary investigates the secretive and inconsistent process by which the Motion Picture Association of America rates films, revealing the organization’s underhanded efforts to control culture. Dick questions whether certain studios get preferential treatment and exposes the discrepancies in how the MPAA views sex and violence. Interviewees include John Waters, Darren Aronofsky, Maria Bello, Atom Egoyan and more.

Howard Zinn
You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Documentary 2004 NR 78 minutes. Matt Damon narrates this documentary chronicling Howard Zinn’s commitment to social change through archival materials, commentary from Zinn and interviews with contemporaries Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden and Alice Walker, among others.See Full Review

The First Amendment Project

Documentary 2004 NR 67 minutes. How the entertainment industry tackles the subject of civil liberties and free speech goes on trial, so to speak, in this documentary by The Sundance Channel and Court TV. Filmmakers Chris Hegedus and Mario Van Peebles team up for this entertaining and educational project, which includes New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka reading his controversial 9/11 piece; footage from protestors at the 2004 Republican National Convention; and more. This documentary is divided into three parts, the most interesting of which is Al Franken’s portion about getting in trouble with Fox News after satirically using Bill O’Reilly’s image and Fox’s nonsensical “Fair and Balanced” slogan on one of his books. This entry in the history of First Amendment movies takes a very broad pro free speech tone, as one would expect.

Dirty Pictures

Docudrama 2000 R 104 minutes. When Robert Mapplethorpe’s sadomasochistic photography exhibit “A Perfect Moment” was shown at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center in 1990, it was quickly deemed obscene, and museum curator Dennis Barrie (James Woods) was taken to court. This fact-based, made-for-cable-TV drama explores the relevant issues of freedom of expression and censorship of the arts through narrative and via interviews with celebrities and cultural icons. This installment in the history of First Amendment movies was made for television. It stars James Woods as Dennis Barrie, head of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, prosecuted for obscenity after the museum showed an exhibit of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, some of which were deemed in poor taste. Like the other films on this list, it also takes a stance that is in favor of freedom of expression in all of its forms.

The People Vs. Larry Flynt

Docudrama 1996 R 130 minutes. Notorious pornographer Larry Flynt carries his free-speech campaign from lowly strip clubs to the U.S. Supreme Court in this Oscar-nominated biopic, which blends details of the publisher’s legal battles with scenes from his personal life. Milos Forman’s film, starring Woody Harrelson as the titular man and one of America’s most influential pornographers, is less a story of smut than a shining example for other First Amendment movies. While the film’s beginnings focus on Flynt’s early life in porn, the second half focuses on his famous Supreme Court case, which stands up for the right to parody public figures and asks whether satire is protected under the First Amendment. Movies about the First Amendment don’t come clearer than this.

Berkeley in the Sixties

Documentary 1990 NR 117 minutes. University of California, Berkeley, alumni recount how their quiet school became the epicenter of 1960s campus activism, starting with the free speech movement and evolving into organized opposition to the Vietnam War. The students also championed civil rights, the women’s movement and the Black Panther party. Archival footage is interwoven with present-day interviews and songs by the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez and Jefferson Airplane.


Docudrama 1981 PG-13 121 minutes. This 1981 television movie directed by Herbert Wise is based on the real life National Socialist Party of America Controversy of Skokie, Illinois. Modern-day Nazis plan to march through the predominantly Jewish community of Skokie, Illinois, and one citizen (Danny Kaye) who’s a death camp survivor marshals support to stop them. The Nazis’ leader (George Dzundza) goes to the ACLU, and the Jewish lawyer (John Rubinstein) he consults takes on the Nazis as clients, arguing that inhibiting their right to march is a violation of the First Amendment.


High Tech, Low Life

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 25m. Meet Tiger and Zola, two “citizen reporters” who travel throughout China, facing censorship and even imprisonment in their pursuit of the truth.  Citizen journalism and Civil Disobedience at their best. The courage of these people is amazing, and their passion is inspiring. After I watched this, I tried to search for recent blogs by Tiger but couldn’t find anything. This film gives you the feeling and the flavor of Beijing. The real stuff. The way real people live and work and how they are naturally. The countryside scenes and the travel scenes nail it! I lived in China four years 2006 to 2010 teaching English, and this show brought back many memories. This doc shows the importance of the flow of information, and how each and every one of us can make a difference in our communities. I remember Facebook being blocked and on some occasions Yahoo and Google as well. Censorship in China is little known by most around the world, and I was fascinated. This doc does a good job at showing the censorship going on over there. Although it’s not as bad as everyone thinks. In four years I saw so much change it felt like I was inside a time-machine watching new developments pop up overnight — a lot of the same stuff going on here in the States. I recommend this film for anybody who has never been to China. I must say, this film opened my eyes to life in China. We should never take our freedom for granted. I really enjoyed this movie. And great job by all involved in this film! Great watch!


Custom Search


Must-See Movies—For What You Need to Know