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Chasing Freedom -- International Institute to Show New Film January 14

Chasing Freedom -- International Institute to Show New Film January 14

The UCLA International Institute in cooperation with School of Law & the prestigious non-profit organization Active Voice, will present a screening of the upcoming original movie "Chasing Freedom," produced by Court TV as part of a national awareness campaign.

Richard Gunde Email RichardGunde

Chasing Freedom, the third original full-length film made by Court TV, which will be shown Wednesday afternoon, January 14, at the UCLA Law School , tells the story of the tribulations of Meena Gardizi, a 26-year-old Afghan woman (portrayed by Layla Alizada), who is persecuted by the Taliban for running an underground school of girls, and Libby Brock, an ambitious New York corporate lawyer (played by Juliette Lewis) who reluctantly agrees to represent Meena, pro bono, when the woman is detained as she enters the United States seeking asylum.

The movie was inspired by a real asylum case handled by attorneys affiliated with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights , a non-profit organization founded in 1978 to “create a secure and humane world by advancing justice, human dignity, and respect for the rule of law.”

Oppression in Two Worlds

The contours of women’s lives under the Taliban, with which the film opens, are well known: relegation to the home, denial of the fundamental right to an education, violent repression of freedom of conscience, and, in general, stifling oppression in all aspects of life, both public and private. The film graphically reveals the toll this took by following the story of Meena, a former university student in Kabul. Meena secretly teaches the girls in her neighborhood to read and write. When the Taliban authorities discover her make-shift school, Meena is plunged into mortal danger.

Eventually Meena flees Afghanistan and ends up in New York, at the airport, where she pleads for admission “to the land of the free.” The immigration officer asks her why she wants into the United States. She replies, "Because I am afraid." But she has no paperwork and thus no way to document the oppression she suffered in Afghanistan, no way to prove her life is in jeopardy if she is forced to return, and in fact no way to prove her identity. Without this precious paperwork, Meena becomes trapped in the U.S. immigration system, incarcerated under prison-like conditions, as her case slowly winds through the system.

For Libby Brock, the lawyer, Meena’s plight is an eye-opening experience. She quickly sees that asylum seekers face huge obstacles, that they are caught up in a cold, confusing, and often frightening system of “justice,” and that they are typically treated as if they were unscrupulous liars, if not outright international criminals. Worst of all, if they do not receive vigorous and skillful representation, they are likely to be deported in the end, to face their fate in their homeland. All of this becomes a transformative experience for Libby.

Balancing Security and Freedom

Despite the words of Emma Lazarus—“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, the United States has a checkered history of both welcoming and rejecting immigrants. The lot of asylum seekers has often been particularly depressing. After September 11, as Chasing Freedom suggests, things have only gotten worse.

Court TV chairman and CEO Henry Schleiff has encapsulated the importance of Chasing Freedom: the movie “tells an incredibly important story of oppression, freedom and hope. There are hundreds of 'Meenas' in the world, whose lives and families are in danger and who desperately need the protection that the United States and others can provide. Still, as the attacks of September 11 underscored, it is essential that we balance national security against the need to provide asylum."

"We hope," Schleiff continues, " that our viewers will come to appreciate the plight of asylum-seekers and perhaps be inspired to do something about the people who need legal representation and guidance. As it has for two centuries, our country stands to benefit, and indeed grow stronger, from the men and women who come here to make a better life for themselves."

Production Collaboration

Court TV - The Investigation Channel™ describes itself as “the leader in the investigation genre, providing a window on the American system of justice through distinctive programming that both informs and entertains. It is widely recognized for its commitment to socially relevant programming and public affairs. . . . Court TV is 50% owned by TimeWarner and 50% owned by Liberty Media Corp. The network is seen in almost 80 million homes.”

In producing Chasing Freedom, Court TV collaborated with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR) and Active Voice. LCHR has a distinguished history of work in the United States and abroad in supporting human rights activists and refugees from repression and persecution, in promoting workers’ rights, and in helping to build a vigorous international system of justice and accountability for human rights’ crimes.

Active Voice  is known for film-based campaigns that encourage public engagement in pressing social issues. It consists of communication specialists who put socially relevant film to work for change in communities, workplaces, and campuses throughout the country. Through partnerships, forums, training sessions, and small-group workshops, Active Voice seeks to tap the transforming power of film. Formerly known as the Television Race Initiative, which was funded by the Ford Foundation, Active Voice is a division of independent media innovator American Documentary Inc. Active Voice has worked with more than twenty documentaries and movies, on issues range from affirmative action to the World War II internment of Japanese Americans to contemporary migration.

The Stars: Layla Alizada & Juliette Lewis

Afghan-born Layla Alizada has appeared in several movies beginning in the late 1990s, including The Thirteenth Warrior (1999), but is perhaps better known for her performances on stage, in dramas.

Juliette Lewis, according to the Internet Movie Database, “is recognized as one of Hollywood's most talented and versatile actors of her generation.” She has performed in more than forty movies and has been nominated for both an Oscar and an Emmy. 

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Date: Wednesday, January 14

Time: 4:30 PM - 6:30 PM

UCLA Law School, Room 1357
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Free of charge

Clips of Chasing Freedom can be seen at


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