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(The 24th Annual Slamdance Film Festival ran January 19-25 in Park City, UT. Hammer to Nail has you covered and guarantees more coverage than any other site. Watch us work it!)

According to famed 20th-century political historian and theorist Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), “Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.” In other words, in an ostensible democracy, it is possible for an aggressive minority to pervert the very liberties built into the system and subjugate the masses through illiberal, or strong-arm, means. With marvelous precision, first-time director Rupert Russell, in his chilling new documentary, Freedom for the Wolf , walks us through multiple examples, in today’s world, of the perversion of democracies by leaders with authoritarian tendencies. From Hong Kong to Tunisia to India to Japan to the good ole US of A, Russell examines, in five distinct sections, each with its own header, how these four countries and one territory are rapidly becoming less free than they purport to be.

In “Embracing Freedom,” set in Hong Kong, we listen to spokespeople on the pro-China and pro-democracy sides, each convinced that their partisans are pro-liberty (Russell clearly casts a cynical eye on the pro-Chinese). Here, we learn of a disturbing trend in what the film’s talking-head experts call the “new authoritarianism”: If people feel free to buy and make money, then they ignore the loss of the freedom to make other, political choices. The power to consume buys the illusion of liberty.

We then head over to Tunisia for “After the Revolution,” India for “Illiberal Democracies,” Japan for “The Personal Is Political” and the United States of America for “Freedom for Sale.” Along the way, sociologist Orlando Patterson, human-rights activist Amna Guellali and political scientist Francis Fukuyama, among others, prove able guides, illuminating the disturbing trends of our contemporary global marketplace of nations. Since 2005, they say, the world has seen a slow decline in democracies, and an increase in the scapegoating of minorities within them (always a sign of the slide towards totalitarianism). Is there hope? Yes. Resist. By all means, resist.

With a crew that varied by location (though almost always with Russell, himself, on one of the cameras), the movie feels both specific and universal. Each place is photographed with great detail, and yet there is a uniformity of approach that lends the entire documentary a sense of urgency that we must act now, lest the world head down a path from it would be difficult to recover. Do not let the wolves rule, lest we all die. Or, at the very least, have only the agency to buy, buy, buy, as only sheep can.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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