Asian American Filmmakers’ Virtual Town Hall Creating Stir in Virginia

(Brig Cabe/Examiner) Documentarians Eric Byler (left) along with Annabel Park (center), interview Corey Riley at home, Haymarket, Va.Local filmmakers based in Gainesville are causing a stir in Prince William County with their “interactive documentary” about the battle over immigration, currently one of the most popular sites on YouTube. Since starting the experimental project weeks ago, Eric Byler and Annabel Park have created a virtual town hall for spirited debate, threats of violence, and attempts at reconciliation for Prince William County residents concerned about the immigration issue.

“9500 Liberty” is named after Liberty Wall, the site of the half-destroyed banner in Manassas that reads “Stop Your Racism To Hispanics.” The series stars every-day citizens as well as controversy magnets like Chairman Corey A. Stewart and Help Save Manassas President Greg Letiecq. It chronicles the historic 12-hour Citizens’ Time on October 16 at the Prince William County government center, as well as more than two months of ethnic tension and civic activism that led up to it. One video installments has over 38,000 views, another over 25,000, attracting curiosity from as far away as Germany and Australia.

Raised in Burke, Va., Byler resettled in Gainesville a year ago, having spent a decade in Los Angeles directing films (including the award-winning indie romance “Charlotte Sometimes”). Byler noticed ethnic tension surrounding the immigration debate boiling to the surface in his community. “But watching pundits on TV and reading news articles about it left me with an anxiety that there must be more to the story,” he said.

Byler teamed with Korean American community leader Park to approach the immigration issue as a documentary film. Now, the interactive version of “9500 Liberty” is realizing a dream of Park’s to draw out public discourse for collective deliberation.

“When things are presented in a strict black-and-white dichotomy, we inevitably reach an impasse and it begins to degenerate into a power struggle, or a fight,” she said. “It’s an intellectual challenge, as well as a political one, to find a more proactive way of processing our lives.”

One “9500 Liberty” participant, Mpolo79 commented on the channel page, “There is something huge rising in our country and you guys are the means by which we are beginning to see it!”

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