The Film

Entangled in a distant war…

a nation lost sight of its highest values. Men and women who spoke out against the war were punished. Their families were torn apart. In Montana, scores of people were convicted of sedition, merely for criticizing the war effort or for refusing to prove their loyalty by buying war bonds. Some were sent to prison for up to 20 years.

Watch Jailed for Their Words on Montana PBS.

This powerful, hour-long documentary traces the dramatic story of Montana’s draconian WWI sedition law, the harshest law of its kind in the nation, and the model for a U.S. law passed shortly after. Through interviews with free speech experts, historians and descendants of the prisoners, the film shows how war hysteria and super-patriotism led to broken lives. Creative re-enactments help tell this compelling human drama, while contemporary footage shows the dramatic conclusion, the pardoning of all sedition prisoners by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in 2006. Framed in the context of our First Amendment guarantee of free speech and free press, this cautionary tale demonstrates in clear and compelling terms what can happen when Americans give up their liberties in return for the promise of greater security.

Produced and directed in Montana by acclaimed filmmaker Gita Saedi Kiely and narrated by J.K. SimmonsJailed For Their Words resonates in today’s world and sounds a warning for tomorrow.


Gita Saedi Kiely (Producer/Director):

Gita is an award-winning producer, director and editor with more than 15 years’ experience in documentary film. She was the Series Producer and story editor for Kartemquin Films’ nationally acclaimed PBS series The New Americans — a three-part, seven-hour series following five immigrant families’ journey to and first years in the U.S. Prior to The New Americans, she served on producing teams for Channel 4 in the U.K., CBS and PBS in the U.S. and RTE in Ireland. Since The New Americans, Gita line-produced Reel Paradise, a feature documentary about independent film guru John Pierson and his family’s adventure on a remote island in Fiji.

Since moving to Montana in 2003, Gita has made three films focused on the American West. She serves as an adjunct faculty member at The University of Montana School of Journalism where she teaches documentary film history and production courses. Her 2007 class’s film recently won the Broadcast Educators Association’s Best in Category Award for long-form documentary.

Clemens P. Work (Co-Producer):

Clem came to The University of Montana in 1990 from U.S. News & World Report, where he was a senior editor. Before that, he was deputy director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C. He began his journalism career working for daily newspapers in the late 1960s in Southern California and in Denver, and obtained a law degree in 1975.

Clem teaches media law, reporting and other undergraduate and graduate courses at The University of Montana’s School of Journalism. His first book, “Darkest Before Dawn: Sedition and Free Speech in the American West,” was published in 2005 by University of New Mexico Press.

Greg Snider (Editor):

Greg is a documentary and commercial filmmaker and editor who lives in Portland, Ore. His editing credits include The Real Dirt On Farmer John, which aired on PBS’ Independent Lens, and was released for national theatrical distribution. Snider has also edited Purvis of Overtown, a feature documentary about acclaimed painter Purvis Young. The film won the Best Documentary Award from the Florida Film Festival and was featured in the International Documentary Association’s Docuweek screenings in 2006.

Greg’s directorial debut, Ridin‘ & Rhymin‘ about cowgirl poet Georgie Sicking, won the award for Best Film About the American West at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in 2005 and aired on Oregon and Wyoming PBS in 2006 The film was a Film Action Oregon sponsored project. He’s currently editing the feature-length documentary Facing The Storm.

Nancy Cooper (Music Supervisor):

Nancy is a member of the music faculty of the University of Montana, where she teaches organ, harpsichord, and music theory. Her master’s and doctoral degrees are from the Eastman School of Music. Nancy has served as music advisor for many public television documentaries, most notably Ken Burns’ “Jefferson.” In addition to working as the music director for “Jailed for their Words,” she is the pianist on the soundtrack.


Roll the credits…

funds provided by:

Grant and Debbie Schermer

The University of Montana Foundation

The University of Montana School of Journalism

Friends of Montana PBS

Produced & Directed by Gita Saedi Kiely

Co-Producer Clemens Work

Editors Greg Snider, Gita Saedi Kiely

Associate Producer Kimberly Cosgrove
 Executive Producers:
Jerry Elijah Brown Grant Schermer Peggy Kuhr

J.K. Simmons

Titles & Motion Effects
Greg Twigg

Ken Furrow

Music Supervisor
Nancy Cooper

The reviews…

An excellent documentary, dealing with a topic that couldn’t have more contemporary relevance, and especially good at humanizing the issue of free speech.

Kenneth Turan,
Film critic, Los Angeles Times

A wise and compelling documentary that could not be more prescient…Producer/Director Gita Saedi Kiely shows us the tragic consequences of hysteria and intolerance. The men and women who are the subjects of this film were jailed for their words in 20th century Montana, a state proud of its individualistic cowboy ethic, its sense of freedom and justice. What Ms. Kiely has given us is not a pretty picture; but it is surely a picture to remember.

Annick Smith
Writer and filmmaker

An important message about over-reacting during times of war and terror. Thank you for producing this important piece of Montana history. These were not the proudest moments in our state’s history but lessons have been learned and actions taken to correct the injustices.

Barbara Theroux
Bookseller, Fact & Fiction

When we showed high school students a preview, here’s how they reacted: