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Tackling a Controversial Subject in Perilous Times - Successfully!
on September 20, 2005
This taut and important film CHASING FREEDOM was apparently a made for television film in 2004. It is a shame it never made it into the theaters as it is a searing document about the problems of victims from foreign countries seeking asylum in the United States. The script by Barbara Samuels is a brave indictment against the Taliban's activities in Afghanistan as well as a penetrating examination of US bureaucratic bungling in dealing with those who get caught up in the quagmire of red tape in trying to find an escape hatch from their homeland cruelty. It is an honest look at a problem, unbiased, where none of the parties are blameless.
A member of a high profile New York law firm, Libby (Juliette Lewis) is told by her boss that despite her overtaxed workload as a securities lawyer she must by contract take on some pro bono work (as much to make her boss look good as to keep a law firm's reputation spotless). Libby begrudgingly takes on a pro bono case in the department closest to her office - the INS where kind and desperate Eric (Brian Markinson) pleads with her to represent a woman seeking asylum. Libby has a negative attitude toward the process, as much because she knows nothing about asylum cases in law as the fact that she is doing this under duress. Eric introduces her to her client Meena (Layla Alizada) who has fled Afghanistan to escape death because she dared to teach children in Kabul despite the Taliban's condemnation of schools. Gradually the harden Libby discovers the life story of Meena and softens to her cause, devoting herself to achieving the impossible - obtaining asylum for a woman who has no proof of identity and is 'detained' in a brusque INS center like a prisoner.
Though Meena arrived in the US in 2000, by the time her case is extended it is 2001 - and 9/11 has happened, an incident that placed Afghanistan in a bad light. The manner in which Libby works with Meena to gain her flight to freedom is a well-paced, gripping, startling tale - and this is based on a true story.
Juliette Lewis again demonstrates the scope of her talent by convincingly transforming the hard, workaholic lawyer into the compassionate believer in human rights and she is able to make this character development with being cloying or stereotyped. It is a fine performance in a role not of the usual Lewis type. Equally excellent is Layla Alizada, wholly believable as a woman who has endured atrocities only to enter a land that seems cold to her plea for asylum. The two actresses make a fine team. The remainder of the cast is superb and the direction by Don McBrearty is on target. There is a hauntingly beautiful music score by Jonathan Goldsmith the weaves Middle Eastern and Western music into a lush, additive and atmospheric score. This film deserves attention, especially today when our borders are even more blockaded. It is wise to remember the individuals caught up in the problem of seeking asylum. Grady Harp, September 05