5 Must-Watch Films from our 2018 Freedom of Expression Awardee Liz Garbus
The 38th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is honored to present the 2018 Freedom of Expression Award to award-winning documentarian Liz Garbus. The FOE Award honors the unfettered imagination, which is the cornerstone of a free, just and open society. Garbus will appear in person at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre on Thursday, July 26 to accept the award, screen her latest project The Fourth Estate, and discuss her career with filmmaker Bonni Cohen.
Prolific documentarian Liz Garbus has been at the forefront of nonfiction filmmaking for decades. Her latest project, The Fourth Estate, puts her camera directly in the midst of The New York Times’ coverage of the Trump Administration’s first hundred days, offering a stunning view of the journalistic profession in the modern era. As the nuance, empathy and raw power of The Fourth Estate shows, the work of this two-time Academy Award nominee, Peabody winner and Emmy winner is a true embodiment of the SFJFF Freedom of Expression Award.
Here are five films to watch from Garbus’ career infused with energy, intellect and compassion.
The Fourth Estate (2018)
Documentarian Liz Garbus managed to gain unprecedented access behind the scenes at The New York Times beginning January 20, 2017, that fateful wintry day when Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. “What a story,” sighs the seasoned Times executive editor Dean Baquet as the former reality television host suddenly becomes the most powerful man in the world. Garbus’s camera captures Times journalists as they try to keep up with Trump’s tumultuous first hundred days in office. As each fresh scandal and outrage unfolds, the embattled newspaper staff begins to feel the intense heat coming from the White House. Ultimately this is a fascinating cinema verité look into the heart of American journalism’s veteran bastion against fake news.
The Farm: Angola, USA (1998)
Garbus’ feature debut is a harrowing and essential look at life behind bars at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the notorious and largest American maximum-security prison known as The Farm. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It won an Emmy Award, the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize, and both the New York and the Los Angeles Film Critics awards for Best Documentary of ‘98.
“Every film I make I feel like I am getting a mini-masters degree, it’s a wonderful life path and you get to immerse yourself in an intriguing world for a couple of years.” –Liz Garbus
The Execution of Wanda Jean (2002)
Garbus’s 2002 documentary was a landmark in film explorations of America’s dark criminal justice system. This film illuminates the terrifying and botched trial (and appeals) of Wanda Jean Allen, the first black woman to be executed in America in 50 years.
Ghosts of Abu Graib (2007)
Garbus tapped into the American conscience with Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, comprised of on-the-ground reporting and interviews with ex-prisoners of the notorious prison. Liz Garbus takes an in-depth look here, exploring not just the notorious incidents of the US Army, but also the Iraqi history of the prison dating back to the 1960s.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Using never-before-heard recordings, rare archival footage and her best-known songs, this is the definitive story of legendary singer and activist Nina Simone. Garbus received her second Academy Award nomination for this complex portrait of the iconoclastic performer.
Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)
A Jewish boy grows up to be a virulent anti-Semite and one of the most famous men on the planet. Sound like the tagline of a Hollywood movie? It’s the real-life saga of chess legend Bobby Fischer. This outstanding documentary follows Fischer’s journey from child prodigy to world chess master (at 29) to paranoid hate-monger. Centering on the famous 1972 World Championship match between American Fischer and Russian Boris Spassky, the film plays out like a taut Cold War drama. Exquisitely composed interviews meanwhile combine with rare archival footage to lay bare an exceptional but lonely life.