Before you read any further, think for a moment and ask yourself what the Statue of Liberty means to you. What was your first story? What is your first memory? Co-directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato are the filmmaking team behind HBO’s new documentary Liberty: Mother of Exiles who remind us just what the Statue of Liberty represents to millions of people around the world.
“What she represents is everything that has to be protected.” Designer and Executive Producer Diane Von Furstenberg declared in 2016 as construction on the Statue of Liberty Museum began. Von Furstenberg serves as our main guide as we discover the fascinating history behind the Statue of Liberty.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you see her, it’s always special.” Von Furstenberg says. “We forget about her.” In Liberty: Mother of Exiles, we are served a powerful reminder of just how easily we do forget, just how we take things for granted, and how we could lose it all.
Life is such that sometimes we do need a reminder of the basics. America is a nation of immigrants, and The Statue of Liberty is an icon and symbol to remember just that. Through park rangers who take the 4 million annual visitors on the Statue of Liberty tour, through the immigrant employees at Colbar Arts (the only US company licensed to sell Statue figurines on Liberty Island) and through Denis Ouch (a Russian Street artist) we hear stories about the opportunities that America provides: the chance for a better life, the chance to pursue the dream and to practice religion freely, to speak freely and the beacon of hope that the Statue of Liberty symbolizes and that she belongs to everyone.
It’s a theme the documentary drives home. Liberty and Freedom. We trace the history of Liberty, and how her architect Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi had an antiquity fascination. By diving into his diaries, his photos and rare archives, light is shed upon the mind of this genius. We learn about how through that fascination, Bartholdi wanted to connect East with West and conceived the very first Liberty for the Suez Canal, but after the idea was rejected, she eventually became a gift from France to the USA as a token of friendship.
Von Furstenberg takes us to Bartholdi’s hometown and museum as we see original sketches and early figurines. As we learn about her origins, we also look at the cultural impact of Liberty.
We revisit David Copperfield who recounts one of his most famous illusions of making Liberty disappear in 1983. Copperfield, even back then, wanted to show how important freedom is and just how easy it can disappear.
Liberty is indeed a precious thing and while we learn about her history, we are constantly reminded of how important our freedom is, but how easily it can vanish. It’s a point they reinforce. A necessary one.
Gifted filmmakers Bailey and Barbato find no need to mention the current administration or its leader. They don’t need to. They lay out the nuts and bolts in a well-executed documentary reminding us of the importance of our freedom They shed light on her history and bring the documentary right up to the present day and how Liberty is now used in protests. They track down the Alt Liberty Activist who hung the “Refugees Welcome” banner at her base in 2017 after the Muslim travel ban.
We’ve seen Liberty many times, in hundreds of photos and images; yet, Huy Truong’s cinematography still manages to find fresh looks at capturing this icon that is the most photographed statue. As each person speaks, passport stamps are splashed on the screen to represent and serve as a visual reminder of the global reach of Liberty and America. David Steinberg’s score presses home the urgency of our future and liberty throughout. The use of Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here Right Now” as Lazarus’s poem is read is essential. No matter who she was modeled on, a Muslim woman, a prostitute, Bartholdi’s mother, she represents our Liberty.
Liberty: Mother of Exiles is an urgent, important and engrossing look at what Liberty represents and why we need to fight for it. Whether it’s one person or all of us, it is up to us to fight for something before it disappears. The immigrant stories we hear, remind us of what American means, and not giving up on the dream. Seek out the documentary when it airs and use it to serve as a moment to stop, remember and look at all that Liberty symbolizes and know the great symbol of freedom that the Statue of Liberty represents and the hope that she embodies.
Liberty: Mother of Exiles will air on HBO October 17, 2019