ABOUT THE FILM
Directed by Jared Lapidus, The Libel Tourist is a short-form documentary produced by the Moving Picture Institute's short film program. MPI seeks to provide up-and-coming filmmakers with opportunities to display their talents while making an impact on behalf of human freedom. Find out more about MPI and its projects at MovingPictureInstitute.org.
The taut eight-minute-long film opens our eyes to the chilling threat of "libel tourism," the practice whereby wealthy, powerful individuals file libel suits in countries likely to give advantageous rulings, such as England, with the goal of intimidating their critics into silence. As British lawyer and free speech advocate Mark Stephens told the London Times: "Our libel laws have made Britain a place where any of the world's bullies and wealthy celebrities can wander into court ... and launder their reputations."
The film revolves around the case of American-Israeli criminologist Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, whom Saudi banking magnate Khalid bin Mahfouz sued in London after her 2003 book Funding Evil connected him to the financing of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and Hamas. Ehrenfeld refused to recognize the legitimacy of the suit, and when Mahfouz won by default she was ordered to pay over $200,000 in damages and legal fees, to pulp copies of her book, and to publish an apology in major British newspapers. To challenge the verdict, Ehrenfeld launched a countersuit in New Yorkbut her case collapsed when the state's courts found that they did not have personal jurisdiction over Mahfouz.
But all did not go as Mahfouz planned. The ruling against Ehrenfeld, wrote the London Times, "almost single-handedly launched the American freedom of speech backlash against UK libel laws." Legislators took up the issue. In 2008, the New York State Legislature passed the Libel Terrorism Reform Actknown informally as "Rachel's Law"which rendered foreign libel rulings unenforceable in the state. Other states, including Illinois, California, Florida, New Jersey, and Hawaii, have since introduced or passed similar legislation. The comprehensive Free Speech Protection Act 2009 is one of several "libel tourism" bills currently before Congress. All of these bills immeasurably strengthen the freedoms that American authors and journalists enjoy under the First Amendment.
Dr. Ehrenfeld has expressed her gratitude to MPI and to director Jared Lapidus for lending their support to her cause. "It was difficult to explain my case to the general public," she says. "MPI offered to produce a short film exposing the threats to freedom and democracy. The Libel Tourist made an important but complicated legal matter easy to comprehend, and it helped demand new legislation to protect authors and publishers from the enforcement of foreign libel judgments. I am grateful to MPI and to the film's talented director, Jared Lapidus, for their initiative and valuable work."
Director & Producer: Jared Lapidus
Executive Producers: Thor Halvorssen and Rob Pfaltzgraff
Writers: Jared Lapidus and Sheldon Lapidus
Music: Allan Fox
Narrator: Dave Benson
Film Editor: Jared Lapidus
Production Coordinator: Marina Lyaunzon
Production Assistant: Shawn Kittelsen
Copywriter: Celia Farber
Graphic Designer: Chandler Tuttle