This is your FBI

1971 , doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - — Jonathan Richards

On March 8, 1971, on a night when much of Amer­ica was glued to its ra­dios and tele­vi­sions for the show­down be­tween two un­de­feated heavy­weight cham­pi­ons, Joe Fra­zier and Muham­mad Ali, a team of anti-war ac­tivists broke into an FBI field of­fice in Me­dia, Penn­syl­va­nia, and took ev­ery last file. It was a small-time crim­i­nal en­ter­prise un­der­taken to shed a cleans­ing light on the huge crim­i­nal en­ter­prise that was J. Edgar Hoover’s se­cret FBI.

The bur­glary gave Hoover fits, and nab­bing the cul­prits im­me­di­ately be­came his ob­ses­sive pri­or­ity. Cap­ture would have meant decades of jail time. But the Me­dia bur­glars were never caught, the files were copied and dis­trib­uted to se­lected mem­bers of the press and a few other key par­ties, and Hoover’s her­met­i­cally sealed em­pire was blown ir­repara­bly open.

For most of the re­cip­i­ents of this trove of in­tel­li­gence con­tra­band, in­clud­ing The New York Times and fu­ture pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen. Ge­orge Mc­Gov­ern, the ma­te­rial was too hot to han­dle, and they turned it right back over to the FBI. But Betty Meds­ger, a jour­nal­ist who had done some re­port­ing on the protest move­ment, took the ma­te­rial to her ed­i­tors at The Wash­ing­ton Post , and af­ter a tense de­bate the Post ran the story. A year ago, Meds­ger pub­lished The Bur­glary , a riv­et­ing ac­count of that decades-old break-in and its con­se­quences. Her book was made pos­si­ble by the de­ci­sion of some of the par­tic­i­pants, now well clear of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions, to di­vulge their se­cret.

Jo­hanna Hamil­ton, a TV doc­u­men­tary pro­ducer mak­ing her di­rec­to­rial de­but, has now brought that story to the screen, us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of archival-news footage, home-movie clips, still pho­to­graphs, talk­ing-head in­ter­views, and staged reen­act­ments of the plot­ting and break-in. The mix­ture is ef­fec­tive, although sus­pense is hard to main­tain when you’ve opened the pro­ceed­ings with ti­tle cards telling how things turned out. But it’s a re­veal­ing por­trait of an era when Amer­ica’s de­fault at­ti­tude was that gov­ern­ment was hon­or­able, and that the FBI was run by Efrem Zim­bal­ist Jr.

The in­ter­views in­clude present-day talks with ring­leader Bill Davi­don and co-con­spir­a­tors Bon­nie and John Raines, Keith Forsyth, and Bob Wil­liamson. Three other par­tic­i­pants de­clined to come for­ward. Hamil­ton also talks with Meds­ger and for­mer NBC cor­re­spon­dent Carl Stern, who dis­cov­ered in the doc­u­ments the ex­is­tence of a se­cret and il­le­gal FBI dirty-tricks pro­gram called COIN­TEL­PRO, aimed at groups as di­verse as Wom­ens Lib and the Black Pan­thers, with spe­cial venom lev­eled at Martin Luther King Jr. It all led to the Se­nate’s Church Com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tion of in­tel­li­gence abuses and a cur­tail­ment of the power of the FBI.

There has been a re­cent batch of movies, both doc­u­men­tary (Freida Lee Mock’s Anita and Laura Poitras’ Ci­ti­zen­four ) and fea­ture (Ava Du­ver­nay’s Selma ), that have rat­tled the cage of gov­ern­ment power and over­reach. 1971 de­serves a seat at that ta­ble.

Have you ever seen the Raines? John, Bon­nie, and chil­dren in 1969

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.