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Wide-ranging stylistically and thematically, these works share an opposition to social inequality, specifically limitations on women's personal independence and political power. These documentaries approach their subjects with a calm commitment bolstered by solid research, and all three contain surprising moments -- of personal revelation, of heartbreaking choices, of culturally sanctioned oppression.

The longest and richest work, Tahani Rached's Four Women in Egypt, uses archival film footage and still photographs to provide an authoritative history of Egypt since World War II, from King Farouk through Presidents Gamel Abdul Nassar and Anwar Sadat. In and out of prison and Egypt, the four women of the title -- Safynaz Kazem, Wedad Mitry, Shahenda Maklad and Amina Rachid -- led resistance movements through writings, organizations and demonstrations. Their moving reminiscences and spirited debates clarify their shared goals but diverse strategies. Differences extend to their religious preferences -- Christian, Muslim (one supporting a secular state and one opposed) and nonreligious -- as they argue about wearing the hajib, socialism, nonviolent activism and dependence on petrodollars. They agree that the New World Order disenfranchises the poor as it exalts ruthless individualism and enables dangerous religious fervor. Intelligent, articulate and well-educated, these fascinating women provide insightful stories as they celebrate justice and their prevailing sense of humor.

More artistically daring and equally moving, In My Father's House interweaves several threads. Director Fatima Jebli Ouazzani imagines herself a child searching for her estranged father (they haven't spoken for 16 years) as the catalyst to explore Moroccan wedding rituals -- girls married at 14, insistence on their virginity and total subservience. Fatima's mother committed suicide rather than endure her forced marriage; her grandmother loathes the husband she serves. Parallel to these sad stories, a bride-to-be eagerly plans her traditional wedding.

Some heroes are quiet men, like Dr. R.D. Spencer. Danielle Renfrew and Beth Seltzer's "Dear Dr. Spencer: Abortion in a Small Town" blends together interviews with women who got abortions; lawyers; widows; jurors; and residents of the complicit, compassionate community that supported Spencer for more than four decades. Responding to pleas that swelled to more than 30,000 letters, Dr. Spencer worked until his death in 1969.

Engaging, astonishing, poignant, these three videos document the real champions of freedom -- those who make the struggle for liberation more than a remote ideology. In one eloquent comment, Safy Kazem confesses her excess of health -- a strong memory, perfect vision and a complete grasp of the New World Order that wants us blind, deaf and dumb. Would that we could all boast such well-being.

Four Women in Egypt (in Arabic and French with English subtitles) shows at 7 p.m. and In My Father's House (in Arabic with English subtitles) and "Dear Dr. Spencer" at 8:45 p.m. March 30 at Webster University.

-- Diane Carson

TRUE CRIME
Directed by Clint Eastwood

"At 50," George Orwell once wrote, "Everyone has the face he deserves." (It was the last thing he scribbled in his notebook before dying.) If that's true, then Clint Eastwood, the producer, director and star of the death-row thriller True Crime, must have committed a capital offense or two of his own. To call it "lived-in" doesn't do it justice: It's been lived in, booted around, dragged, punched, folded, spindled and mutilated. By this point, it is so creased from squinting that it has frozen into a sort of permanent pissed-off sneer. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but with Eastwood it limits the range of expression of an actor who, to begin with, has an emotional range that runs the gamut from A to a little past A.

As a result, Eastwood the actor leaves Eastwood the producer/director with very little to work with. The solution is the one to which most performers who've made their reputations as tough guys come: He plays his tough-guy machismo for laughs. And for the first part of True Crime this approach is moderately pleasing -- or, rather, the first part of one-half of the film.

I say one-half because the movie operates on two parallel tracks. One track chronicles the ramshackle existence of Steve Everett (Eastwood), a reporter for the Oakland Tribune. From what we're able to piece together from the film's early scenes, Everett was once a newspaperman of considerable talent, but that was before the booze and the chronic womanizing took its toll. These days, Everett is making an attempt to pull himself together, though from all appearances he's not in any hurry about it. He may have switched from Bloody Marys to Virgin Marys, but he still smokes like a chimney -- even at the office, where it's strictly forbidden -- and can't seem to cut down on the flirting. At present, he is sleeping with the wife of his paper's city editor (an entertainingly disgusted Denis Leary), who, when he's trying to reach the reprobate writer, just calls home and leaves the message with his own wife.

The reason the editor is trying to track Everett down is because he has a story for him. At midnight on that very night, an inmate on San Quentin's death row is going to be executed, and the editor wants Everett to take over for a fellow reporter who was killed the night before in an automobile accident, go out to the prison, and do an interview with the inmate for a simple human-interest sidebar. No Dick Tracy stuff, he says. Just a simple human-interest story.

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