Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, February 6: 1971
Johanna Hamilton’s exploration of a pivotal act of civil disobedience had its world premiere at Tribeca last year. It went on to screen at IDFA, Sheffield, AFI Docs, Traverse City, and CPH:DOX, among others, and recently won the Cinema Eye Honors’ Spotlight Award and the IDA ABCNews VideoSource Award.
Hamilton’s film tells the story of The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, a group of citizen underground activists who planned and staged a raid of a regional FBI office in Media PA, in the process exposing the agency’s controversial and illegal surveillance program, COINTELPRO, which existed to infiltrate, subvert, and disrupt various social and political movements, from Civil Rights groups to anti-war efforts. Vowing secrecy since the titular year, Hamilton’s appealing chronicle allows the unheralded Commission’s members to finally reveal their identities and share their story – and the motivations for their actions – for the first time. While re-enactments are employed to recreate the break-in – never my preferred manner of exposition – they are at least used sparingly and are well-produced, lending a tension to the participants’ compelling retelling. Ultimately, the true power in the film is its reminder of the dangers of unchecked power – clearly attaining an unfortunate topicality in light of the more recent actions of the NSA – and in the potential impact of an aware and dissenting citizenry willing to make personal sacrifices in the face of its government’s ethical and legal transgressions.