Varsity Theater to Screen Film About Speaker Ban

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Hoping to spur discussions about free speech, filmmaker and UNC communication studies Professor Gorham Kindem will present a special screening of his award-winning new documentary Beyond the Wall at the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill Sunday, Dec. 4 at 1 p.m. Admission will be $5, and DVD copies will be available for $25.

A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation. George Clooney’s film Good Night and Good Luck, which deals with related issues, will follow the Q&A as a matinee.

Kindem’s 65-minute UNC film, which won a Grand Festival Award during this year’s Berkeley Video and Film Festival, is about North Carolina’s infamous Speaker Ban Law, which was on state books from 1963 to 1968 and UNC student and faculty efforts to have it repealed. (The speaker ban was featured in the July/August 2005 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to GAA members.)

Beyond the Wall represents the very best in documentaries being produced in the U.S. today,” according to the festival program.

Many observers, both in North Carolina and elsewhere, considered the free speech-limiting law to be an egregious violation of civil liberties guaranteed to all Americans under the U.S. Constitution. State politicians had decided that students couldn’t invite communists to discuss ideas on campus.

“My documentary explores some important parallels between infringements upon our civil liberties during the 1960s and today,” Kindem said. “Specifically, it documents how student activists and others at Carolina overturned the speaker ban.”

The issue came to a head in 1966 when a crowd of some 3,000 students, most of whom with little interest in communism, gathered to hear two communists speak across a wall separating the town of Chapel Hill from the University, he said.

“Following up on a suggestion to use the wall by law Professor Daniel Pollitt, they were testing the law, which was eventually found unconstitutional in federal court after students brought suit against the university and the state.”

Kindem and some of the people interviewed in his film compare anti-communist constraints upon civil liberties decades ago with recent anti-terrorist actions such as the Patriot Act, currently up for renewal in Congress.

Music is by Lenny Kravitz, local composer and musician Glenn Morrissette and Bob Dylan, whose invitation to perform at UNC was apparently rescinded during the speaker ban. Support for the documentary came from a UNC Arts and Humanities Fellowship and an award from the University Research Council.