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1971
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10 from votes
Release: 19 November 2014 (Netherlands) /

1971

Genre: Documentary, History, Thriller
Director: Johanna Hamilton,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: On March 8th, 1971, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Media, PA. Calling themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, they removed every file in the office. Mailed anonymously, the stolen documents started to show up in newsrooms. The heist yielded a trove of damning evidence. The most significant revelation was COINTELPRO, a controversial, secret, illegal surveillance program overseen by lifelong Bureau director J. Edgar Hoover. Despite one of the largest investigations ever conducted, the FBI was unable to catch the burglars. Those responsible have never revealed their identities. Until now. For the first time the burglars have decided to speak about their actions. 1971 is their story, examining the consequences and implications of their actions - then and now. Written by Anonymous

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Critic Reviews


Johanna Hamilton co-wrote and directed "1971" (2014). The film tells the story of people we now call the "Media Eight." These were eight extraordinarily brave people who risked long prison terms by breaking into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania on March 8, 1971.

Many peace activists had long suspected that the FBI was more interested in stifling legal dissent than it was in fighting crime. The raid on the FBI office was successful, and the activists took thousands of documents.

Ultimately, these documents were published by the Washington Post, and this, in turn, brought about a public realization that the FBI wasn't protecting the American people, but rather was subverting the Constitution. The activists were never caught, and only revealed themselves in 2014.

The movie moves back and forth from reenactments of the planning and the break-in itself, to newsreel footage of the fallout from the release of the documents, to present-day interviews with the activists.

Betty Medsger, then a young reporter for the Post, actually wrote the newspaper story about the documents. By an interesting coincidence, she knew two of the Media Eight, although obviously she didn't know that her friends were part of the group that carried out the break-in. Ultimately, when she learned of the connection, she wrote a book about the event, and the book was then turned into this documentary film. (Medsger also appears in the movie.)

This is a riveting, amazing story. It could be dismissed as improbable were it fiction, but it's fact and it really happened. I think the movie partially captures the sense of what life was like for anti-war activists in the early 1970's. (I should know, because I was a antiwar activist during this period.) Where the movie is weakest, in my opinion, is that it doesn't explain to a younger generation why being against the war in Vietnam was so important--and so frustrating-- to so many people.

After all, for a 20-year-old college student today, the Vietnam war is ancient history. The Media break-in was almost 44 years ago. The Vietnam conflict is as meaningful to a college student today as the Great War was to me when I was in college.

Director Hamilton assumes that people watching the movie will know about Vietnam, about Cambodia, and about the FBI harassment of nonviolent activists. If they're in their 50's, or older, they'll know about this. If they're younger than that, they probably won't know. I wish she had given us a few minutes of footage of the Vietnam conflict, and a few minutes of footage of people being dragged off by the police for sitting in, for blocking military shipments, or just for being where the government didn't want them to be and saying what the government didn't want them to say. That footage would have made the actions of the Media Eight more meaningful to younger people watching the movie.

We saw the film at the excellent Dryden Theatre in George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. (It was shown as part of the Conscience series.) Reporter/author Betty Medsger was there to answer questions after the screening. This event was a true contribution to the community by the George Eastman House, and I'll take this opportunity to publicly thank them.

Shortly after the Media break-in, a larger group of antiwar activists broke into a draft board office in Camden, New Jersey, and began to destroy files. This was done in an attempt to disrupt the draft and, therefore, to disrupt the war in Vietnam. The FBI had an informer in the group, and the FBI actually helped make the break-in possible, then swooped down and arrested the 28 people involved. These activists--who became known as the Camden 28--fought the case in court and won! Surely, the Camden activists were inspired by the Media break-in, and the jury was inspired by the knowledge they had of FBI tactics and harassment. Bob Good, a Rochester, NY activist, was one of the Camden 28, and he was in the audience at the screening of "1971." Betty Medsger pointed him out, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

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