Saturday, 7 March 2015

1971 - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Brave historic activism against FBI's illegal activities

Justifiable Criminal Action. Target: The FBI
1971 (2014)
Dir. Johanna Hamilton

Review By Greg Klymkiw

1971 by Johanna Hamilton might be one of the most important American documentaries in years, but it's not just the subject matter which demands accolades, but the filmmaking itself is of the highest order.

Long before the brave actions of exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden, a (technically) criminal action was perpetrated upon America's Federal Bureau of Investigation (The FBI). In 1971, a small group of young Philadelphia activists formed "The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI" and carried out a hair-raising break-in upon a sleepy regional FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. Lifting hundreds upon hundreds of secret FBI files, these brave souls risked everything to discover and expose the insidious illegal actions of the famed domestic criminal intelligence arm of the United States government.

Their actions exposed one of the most heinous breaches of civil rights in a supposedly democratic nation. The Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) was devised and overseen by the seemingly untouchable thug J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI's notorious longtime kingpin, and its goal was to illegally spy upon American citizens to fight against what Hoover believed were un-American activities. Most of the targets were normal, perfectly innocent citizens, including groups of women meeting regularly to discuss women's liberation. Some of the more high profile citizens the FBI spied on included anti-Vietnam movements, the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King.

COINTELPRO included such sleazy, illegal actions as implanting spies amongst these groups and even communities of normal citizens. The plants were to gather information, seed dissent and to even go so far as to implant criminal "evidence" to make persecution/prosecution easier.

CRIMINALS: Richard Nixon & J. Edgar Hoover
Director Hamilton effectively utilizes all the tools of great documentary filmmaking to tell this stunning story, but furthermore, she employs all the best elements of filmmaking period to generate a movie that's as nail-bitingly suspenseful and harrowing as any great fictional political thriller. Call it The Parallax View with real people. Her protagonists in this group include hardened, up-front political activists as well as the astonishingly normal, suburban husband and wife team of Bonnie and John Raines.

Expertly weaving extraordinary archival footage, contemporary interviews with the original members of the Citizens' Committee, plus journalists instrumental in breaking the story, Hamilton manages to generate a film which blows this year's Oscar-winning Snowden documentary Citizenfour off the face of the map with the sheer force of expert filmmaking. 1971 is cinematic art of a very high order. Citizenfour has all the extraordinary Snowden footage, but as filmmaking, its sole importance lies in its subject matter, whereas 1971 - as cinema - transcends its important subject to place itself on a grand perch of sheer movie-making excellence.

Where Hamilton winds us aesthetically is by employing dramatic reenactments that are so brilliantly shot, cut and acted, then expertly blended into the archival and interview footage, that she pulls off the impossible. She out-Eroll-Morisses-Eroll-Moriss and for my money, has generated the best dramatic reenactments I've ever seen in any documentary.

Just a normal American family of heroes/criminals.
Throughout the film we're not only served up with important historical documentation of a turbulent time in American history, but we're plunged into the utter humanity of the Citizens' Committee to a point where we feel a combination of both pride and dread in their ongoing activities. The protagonists and antagonists are as clear as any great thriller, though they are superbly fleshed out with ever-creepy, danger-fraught and insidiously mysterious shades of grey.

This is great filmmaking. It must be seen by everybody.

Now, more than ever, it's especially important for Canadian audiences to see. Canada is on the verge of the most despicable federal legislation in our country's history. As reported in the Jan. 26 edition of Toronto's Globe and Mail, Chancellor Stephen Harper and his ruling Nazi Party of Canada "says his government will introduce promised new national-security legislation…including a provision that draws a line between free expression and endorsing terrorism. [Harper says] he will protect Canadians from homegrown extremists by giving authorities new powers – including the ability to prosecute people for 'the promotion of terrorism.'"

Who will protect Canadians from Harper and his proposed Gestapo?

See 1971. In a vital historical context, it will provide some answers to that question in terms of what might have to happen if Harper follows through with this insane act of terrorism upon our country.


1971 is a Blue Ice Docs presentation that's currently playing at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto. Demand it be played in YOUR city, town, hamlet, school, community centre and wherever else normal Canadians can get a whiff of what America did to its populace and how we, in this day and age, will be subject to equally immoral, totalitarian and downright criminal activities perpetrated by our own government.