Review: ‘Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press’

Hot Docs 2017

3 mins read

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press
(USA, 93 min.)
Dir. Brian Knappenberger
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)


When Terry Bollea got on the stand of a courtroom and said that while his wrestling persona Hulk Hogan could shamelessly brag about a 10 inch penis, Terry himself wasn’t so well endowed, it was hard to see that this might be the signal of a sea change in American legal and political normalcy. (Bollea had sued Gawker Media for showing a tape of the wrestler having sex—which was arguably personal and not a news item.) This utterance provides one of the more surreal yet fascinating aspects of the Hogan vs Gawker case, a tawdry yet indelible legal tussle that speaks not only to a First-Amendment U.S. freedom about the use of material, no matter how salacious, but how big money is able to surreptitiously stifle the very act of journalism itself.

When it was originally structured, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press concerns were very much about the Hogan case. As the legal proceedings began to mirror the political mood in the U.S., with key characters in the rise of Trump such as billionaire Peter Theil helping fuel the fire, the scope of the film changed as well. Credit is owed to Brian Knappenberger and his team for allowing this aspect of the doc to grow without becoming unwieldly, its larger ramifications still coherently tied to the central narrative of tabloid journalism versus the preposterous boastings of a former wrestling superstar.

When screened at Sundance, only a few dozen hours after the inauguration, the film had already incorporated footage with Trump railing to CNN about their “fake news,” juxtaposed with the view from the Washington Mall. Months later the inclusion of these elements, the film is less startling in terms of process, but no less powerful as to how these various factions intertwine. The doc addresses the fundamental precept that freedom of speech cases often take place at the periphery of taste, decorum and politeness. A fine film about a complex and delicate subject, Nobody Speak stands out as an exceptional work with big ideas about democracy and free speech.

Nobody Speak screens:
-Sunday, April 30 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema at 6:30 PM *Scotiabank Big Ideas screening

-Tuesday, May 2 at Isabel Bader Theatre at 11:00 AM
-Friday, May 5 at Hart House at 9:30 PM
-Sunday, May 7 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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