Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth: Film Review

Good-looking consciousness-raiser preaches to the choir

Historians, physicists and psychologists urge viewers to question the assumptions that shape their lives.

Bringing an arthouse sheen to ideas most appropriate to high school and college courses (which is not to say they're adequately explored on most campuses), The Lottery of Birth deals with perspective-changing notions that will be old news to most of the arthouse audience. Raoul Martinez and Joshua van Praag's first effort is a noble one that could pack a punch (with the right non-ADHD viewers) if screened in civics classes, but doesn't have the tight focus or novel angle that might confer theatrical value.

Most of the film boils down to a single undeniable assertion: Much of what we believe about the world is a product of the place and class into which we are born, and the vast majority of these beliefs and values don't hold up under scrutiny. "We are not born free," as one interviewee puts it, but instead are programmed from birth in ways that aren't even seen as programming by most of the people doing the job. (Science fiction has been teaching this lesson for generations, doing a job conformity-minded schools avoid.)

Education, employment, and participation in political processes are reevaluated here, with testimony from both expected sources (the late historian Howard Zinn) and ones that may be unfamiliar: Vandana Shiva, an environmentalist schooled in physics, complains that most cutting-edge scientists have little understanding of the impact their discoveries have outside the lab.

Attractive (if sometimes heavy handed) stock images accompany Nicholas Woodeson's wise-sounding narration, but visuals rank far below words here, and the filmmakers often put big chunks of text onscreen instead of communicating cinematically. One piece of footage is welcome: Though most viewers will know of Stanley Milgram's troubling experiments studying obedience to authority, few will have seen the film clips here, in which one brave participant refuses to keep administering electric shocks to a fellow human being. That willingness to question power, in a nutshell, is what this idealistic film hopes to nurture.

Production Company:

Directors-Producers: Raoul Martinez, Joshua van Praag

Screenwriter-Editor: Raoul Martinez

Executive producers:

Director of photography: Joshua van Praag

Music: Peter Raeburn

No rating, 76 minutes