Skip to main content

Charged in the name of terror

Curated by Video Data Bank

Video portraits of activists, lawyers, artists, and people simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, accused by the U.S. government of being or aiding terrorists, in these great times. Official selection of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. An ongoing series curated and produced by artist Paul Chan. A portion of the royalties earned by this program will be paid into The Friends of Claude Cahun Fund, and will fund future works in the series.

"All the shorts are experimental in their pairing of sound and image yet plainspoken in their address, and their portraiture is partly concerned with the glory of particular ways of being alive." 

--Jonathan Rosenbaum

"Recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, these amazing shorts bring us face to face with the intersections of art and politics in our present age. Artist and activist Paul Chan invited a number of video artists to create intimate portraits of individual political activists who have been sentenced to jail by the U.S. government. Subjects include Lynne Stewart, Steve Kurtz, and Mohammed Yousry." 

--PDX Film Festival website

# Title Artists Run Time Year Country
1 Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, The Law and Poetry Paul Chan 00:17:30 2006 United States
2 Steve Kurtz Waiting Jim Fetterley, Angie Waller 00:15:32 2006 United States
3 Mohamed Yousry: A Life Stands Still Mary Billyou, Annelisse Fifi 00:20:00 2006 United States

Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, The Law and Poetry

Paul Chan
2006 | 00:17:30 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | DV video


On February 10th, 2005, Lynne Stewart was convicted of providing material support for a terrorist conspiracy. She is the first lawyer to be convicted of aiding terrorism in the United States. Stewart was convicted on charges of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists in 2005, and sentenced to 28 months in prison. Her felony conviction led to her being automatically disbarred. She was re-sentenced on July 15th, 2010, to ten years in prison in light of her perjury at trial. She served her sentence at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell, a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas. Stewart was released from prison on December 31st, 2013 on a compassionate release order because of her terminal breast cancer diagnosis.

Untitled... is a video portrait of Stewart. The video focuses on the relationship between the language of poetry and the language of the law. Stewart speaks both languages, and employs poetry as a "knotting point" to connect ideas of beauty and justice for juries and judges alike. The film takes Stewart's understanding of poetry and the law as a departure point to explore the possibilities of a poetics capable of articulating the pressures of terror and justice.

“Paul Chan’s portrait [is] of Lynne F. Stewart, the New York lawyer convicted last year of aiding Islamic terrorism by smuggling messages out of jail from a client she was defending, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Now disbarred, Ms. Stewart faces a 30-year jail sentence.

The film, which Mr. Chan calls a work-in-progress, simply shows Ms Stewart talking; in a sense it is a self-portrait. She talks about her trial, about her career as an activist lawyer and about a personal politics that sounds instinctual rather than ideological. She also read poetry.

One of the poems she reads is William Blake’s “On Another’s Sorrow” from “Songs of Innocence”. It isn’t “political” in any overt way. It is filled with both questions and answers. While she reads, Mr. Chan turns the screen into a field of changing colors, so that we concentrate on the music of the words, the activism of the soul that poetry is, the power outlet that art can be. It’s a simple device, and like any effective political action, right or wrong, brilliant because it works.

— Holland-Cotter, New York Times, January 17th 2006

This title is also available on Charged in the Name of Terror.

Steve Kurtz Waiting

Jim Fetterley, Angie Waller
2006 | 00:15:32 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 |


On May 11 2004, Steve Kurtz phoned 911 to report Hope, his wife of 20 years, was unresponsive. When paramedics came to his house, one of them noticed that Kurtz had laboratory equipment, which he used in his art exhibits. The paramedics reported this to police and the FBI sealed off his house.

Authorities later said that Kurtz's wife had died of "heart failure," but he wasn't allowed to return to his home for two days while the FBI confiscated his equipment, and biological samples. They also carted off his books, personal papers and computer.

The contradiction between the charges for possessing harmful substances and the county health commissioner assessing that no hazardous substances were found in the house leaves only the conclusion that ideas, when misunderstood or disagreeable, are toxic.

Kurtz is one of the founders of the Critical Art Ensemble, a group whose beginnings in filmmaking over a decade ago have evolved into public performances and videos that educate the public about the politics of biotechnology. All of CAE's museum and public performances are meant to not only inform the public about the ways their lives are affected by biotechnology, but also to dispel public paranoia that is generated by the media and a lack of understanding.

Steve became the victim of this paranoia, and through the extended powers of the US Patriot Act, he still awaits trial for mail fraud. If found guilty, he could face up to twenty years.

Steve Kurtz Waiting by Jim Fetterley and Angie Waller is a video portrait of Steve Kurtz during a moment of indefinite anticipation as routine court litigations continue. Through a series of casual interviews, Kurtz reveals an admirable calmness, spirited humor and a strong will to continue his role as a cultural producer after months of close surveillance, black vans, and continued government scrutiny; all notably taking place in addition to the mourning of his close partner.

This title is only available on Charged in the Name of Terror.

Mohamed Yousry: A Life Stands Still

Mary Billyou, Annelisse Fifi
2006 | 00:20:00 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | Video


Mohamed Yousry: A Life Stands Still (also known as Good Translator) is a short documentary about Mohamed Yousry, a naturalized American citizen who's life changed radically after September 11, 2001. Mohamed immigrated to the United States in 1980. For the next twenty years, he developed a full and happy life, as a husband, father, and academic. On September 13, 2001 Mohamed was approached by the FBI on his doorstep in Queens, NY. After appeal processes and an attempt to extradite him, Mohamed was sentenced to four years in a federal penitentiary in Fort Worth, TX. There, he was one of two Arabs in the prison population. Since his release, with the help of his friends and family, he is trying to piece his life together again.

This title is only available on Charged in the Name of Terror.