After the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Kent State shootings, and amid the escalation of the Vietnam War, a group of anti-war activists took it upon themselves to do something about what they suspected was illegal activity perpetrated by the FBI. Their solution was to break in to an FBI field office in Media, Pa., and distribute the documents they found to members of the press and Congress.

 

The fallout was enormous, but it was soon dwarfed by Watergate. There was plenty of contemporary news coverage, but the 1971 break-in seems to be lost to history.

 

Director Johanna Hamilton sets out to rectify that with 1971, and ably weaves a compelling narrative that details the national outlook at the end of the sixties, and many Americans’ increasing disgust with the government. None of the break-in participants were caught, and most of them appear on camera to discuss their role (aided by dramatic recreations).

 

It’s astounding stuff, and the players are just as passionate about it today, whether they’re proud of their roles or express regret. (One says he feels guilty for perpetuating what he sees as lingering cynicism about the government in the wake of what he and colleagues discovered.) Dense but brisk, 1971 is a must-see documentary about this tumultuous period in American history.

 

1971

Directed by Johanna Hamilton

CCA Cinematheque

NR
80 min.