9500 Liberty comes at just the right moment to capture the zeitgeist of the nation’s immigration debate. The documentary is a true independent release. There is no studio or mini-major or even one of the small distributors like Magnolia or IFC behind the scenes. 9500 Liberty is being self-distributed by its producers who are releasing it on a city by city-by-city basis.

9500 Liberty depicts the events in the town of Manassas, Virginia and surrounding Prince William County when an immigration policy took effect that essentially allowed police to stop and question anybody who looked like an illegal alien. The title refers to the street address of a handmade billboard that highlighted slogans of the events. “The city took is down,” director Annabel Park tells Free Press Houston in a phone interview. While the ordinance was eventually overturned the situation fanned the flames of controversy at city council meetings, with elected officials making backroom deals, and with internet bloggers creating their own sub-controversies and Park, along with co-director Eric Byler (who’s from Manassas), captured it all for their documentary.

“As a county Price William didn’t invest in hospitals and school at the same time it was creating its own housing boom. When the economic crash hit it’s easy to scapegoat people instead of the institution that’s responsible,” Park says. As seen in 9500 Liberty all the opinions are diverse no matter whose side you’re on, and some of the testimony at city hall meetings are just downright emotional. Activists have orgs with names like Mexicans Without Borders, or Help Manassas. A really lame blog that manages to become an unofficial beacon of all the hatred, Black Velvet Bruce Li, is run by a kind of tall creepy white guy who would make a good villain if 9500 Liberty were a fiction movie. Despite my own rooting interest the film is, to turn a phrase, fair and balanced.

“We want to talk about immigration in a way that’s different,” says Park who will introduce and host a Q&A for 9500 Liberty on Friday night (June 25) at the 7:20 showing at the Angelika Film Center. Park reminds that she came from South Korea as a child and grew up in Houston. “I had people telling me to learn to speak English. Houston was where I became an American.”

— Michael Bergeron