Entangled in a distant war...
a nation lost sight of its highest values. Men and women who spoke out against the war were punished. Their families were torn apart. In Montana, scores of people were convicted of sedition, merely for criticizing the war effort or for refusing to prove their loyalty by buying war bonds. Some were sent to prison for up to 20 years.
This powerful, hour-long documentary traces the dramatic story of Montana's draconian WWI sedition law, the harshest law of its kind in the nation, and the model for a U.S. law passed shortly after. Through interviews with free speech experts, historians and descendants of the prisoners, the film shows how war hysteria and super-patriotism led to broken lives. Creative re-enactments help tell this compelling human drama, while contemporary footage shows the dramatic conclusion, the pardoning of all sedition prisoners by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in 2006. Framed in the context of our First Amendment guarantee of free speech and free press, this cautionary tale demonstrates in clear and compelling terms what can happen when Americans give up their liberties in return for the promise of greater security.
Produced and directed in Montana by acclaimed filmmaker Gita Saedi Kiely and narrated by J.K. Simmons, Jailed For Their Words resonates in today's world and sounds a warning for tomorrow.
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An excellent documentary, dealing with a topic that couldn't have more contemporary relevance, and especially good at humanizing the issue of free speech.
Film critic, Los Angeles Times
A wise and compelling documentary that could not be more prescient...Producer/Director Gita Saedi Kiely shows us the tragic consequences of hysteria and intolerance. The men and women who are the subjects of this film were jailed for their words in 20th century Montana, a state proud of its individualistic cowboy ethic, its sense of freedom and justice. What Ms. Kiely has given us is not a pretty picture; but it is surely a picture to remember.
Writer and filmmaker
An important message about over-reacting during times of war and terror. Thank you for producing this important piece of Montana history. These were not the proudest moments in our state's history but lessons have been learned and actions taken to correct the injustices.
Bookseller, Fact & Fiction
When we showed high school students a preview, here's how they reacted:
Watch a clip...
In this short segment, Marie van Middlesworth talks about her father, Fay Rumsey, who was sent to prison for sedition, leaving behind his wife, Sarah, and 10 kids, on their homestead on Sarpy Creek in southeastern Montana: